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Air Quality: Smoke on horizon as wildfire season looms

Photo: Metro Creative Graphics

With wildfire season just around the corner, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is warning it is time to make sure that homes are ready to resist smoke, that people know how to track air quality conditions, and that they understand how to safeguard their health during severe smoke.

During May, which was Wildfire Awareness Month, federal, state and local emergency and response agencies encouraged the public to work together to prevent the risk of wildfire and prepare for wildfire smoke. The Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality are offering ways to prepare for wildfire smoke.

A good first step is to become familiar with DEQ’s Air Quality Index. The color-coded Air Quality Index provides current air quality conditions. The index also includes specific health-based recommendations. It ranks air quality as follows: Green is good. Yellow is moderate. Orange is unhealthy for sensitive groups.

Sensitive groups include those who have heart and lung conditions, such as asthma, children, pregnant women and the elderly. Red is unhealthy, meaning everyone may begin to experience health effects and should limit their time outdoors. Purple is very unhealthy for all groups. Maroon is hazardous.

Smoke can worsen some medical conditions and irritate people’s eyes and lungs.

OHA urges people to prepare for severe smoke events with these steps:

• Consider developing or updating your breathing plan if you have asthma, or other lung and heart conditions. Consult your health care provider.

• Make sure windows and doors seal well.

• Check the filters in your heating, ventilation, cooling and air purification systems. Change filters as needed. If you don’t have a HEPA filter, and your system will support it, consider upgrading to a HEPA filter. HEPA stands for high efficiency precipitator air filters. Choose the highest rating your system will allow.

• Purchase a portable HEPA or non-ozone producing electrostatic precipitating air cleaner.

• Check for cleaner air spaces in your area on the Oregon Smoke Blog, oregonsmoke.blogspot.com/

• Learn what to do when the smoke fills the air, apps.state.or.us/Forms/Served/le8622.pdf

Check the current local air quality conditions on DEQ’s Air Quality Index oraqi.deq.state.or.us/home/map or download the OregonAIR app on your smart phone.