By Ann McCreary
Air quality is predicted to remain unhealthy through Thursday (Aug. 27) in the Methow Valley due to wildfires in the area, and some residents may want to use a mask to protect themselves.
Okanogan County Emergency Management said the type of mask people use is important, and recommends using masks labeled N95 or N100. The average dust mask is not sufficient to filter out wildfire smoke.
Respirator masks labeled N95 or N100 provide some protection — they filter out fine particles but not hazardous gases (such as carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and acrolein).
N95 masks are available for free at Aero Methow Rescue Service, Twisp and Winthrop town halls, and the Carlton General Store. They can also be purchased at hardware stores and Ulrich’s Pharmacy.
Emergency Management advises choosing an N95 or N100 mask that has two straps that go around your head. Don’t choose a one-strap paper dust mask or a surgical mask that hooks around your ears — these don’t protect you against the fine particles in smoke.
Choose a size that will fit over your nose and under your chin. It should seal tightly to your face. These masks don’t come in sizes that fit young children.
Don’t use bandanas or towels (wet or dry) or tissue held over the mouth and nose. These may relieve dryness but they won’t protect your lungs from wildfire smoke.
Anyone with lung or heart disease, or who is chronically ill, should check with their medical provider before using any mask, according to Emergency Management.
Using respirator masks can make it harder to breathe, which may make existing medical conditions worse. The extra effort it takes to breathe through a respirator mask can make it uncomfortable to use them for very long. These masks should be used mostly by people who have to go outdoors.
Respirator masks shouldn’t be used on young children — they don’t seal well enough to provide protection. They also don’t seal well on people with beards.