Maintaining clear indoor air is vital
Smoky air in the valley since Friday (July 2) can be blamed on fires from British Columbia, according to the National Weather Service.
On Friday, air quality in Twisp and Winthrop was both listed as unhealthy for sensitive groups by the state Department of Ecology. Ecology rates air quality as good, moderate, unhealthy for sensitive groups, unhealthy, very unhealthy and hazardous.
By Monday, Twisp had improved to the moderate category, while Winthrop was still just over the threshold into unhealthy for sensitive groups. Both were forecast to have good air quality by Tuesday (July 6) and have it last at least through the week, according to Ecology.
Particles from smoke are measured as PM2.5, or particulate matter 2.5 microns or smaller. Winthrop’s highest PM2.5 reading came on Sunday, July 4, at 33.5 micrograms per cubic meter.
The town of Lytton, BC — northwest of Vancouver — was decimated by a wildfire after record high temperatures June 30. A number of other wildfires were burning by the end of last week in British Columbia, CBC news reported.
Dealing with smoke
Local groups like Clean Air Methow emphasize prevention of wildfires and cutting down on burning to clear brush to maintain air quality, but once a fire starts, residents have to deal with the smoke.
“Even when it’s from a fire locally, there’s unfortunately nothing we can do about the smoke,” said Liz Walker, director of Clean Air Methow.
Smoky air has different effects on people based on their health or allergies, but the most common reactions to smoky air are sore throat, headache and nausea.
“We’re really putting emphasis on the importance of creating clean indoor air,” Walker said. “Especially in older homes or buildings that aren’t very tight, the indoor air can be almost in equilibrium to the outdoor air.”
In one popular do-it-yourself method, box fans can be repurposed with a bungee cord and an air filter to help keep indoor air clean. Clean Air Methow has a supply of the items for people who can’t get their own and works with local medical providers for referrals.
“It’s not that hard for us to take some steps to reduce our exposures,” Walker said.
Data on air quality is available from several sources. The state Department of Ecology has sensors in Winthrop and Twisp that measure air quality and pollutants such as PM2.5.
The Methow’s Clean Air Ambassador Program is a network of 22 sensor stations throughout the valley that report real-time data on air quality.
For a map of the sensors in the Clean Air Ambassador Program, go to http://mvcitizens.org/clean-air-ambassador-program.
For more information on air quality in the Methow Valley, go to www.cleanairmethow.org/air-quality or https://enviwa.ecology.wa.gov/home/map.