When air quality deteriorates, use caution outside
Air quality in much of Oregon had deteriorated last week due to smoke and ash from wildfires burning across the state, at times reaching levels matching those of polluted cities like Beijing, China, and New Delhi, India.
Concentrations of fine particulate matter, which is small enough to reach the deep portions of the lungs when breathed in, far exceeded maximum health limits, said Perry Hystad, an environmental epidemiologist at Oregon State University.
Those concentrations have declined in most areas of the state, but continue to exceed 24-hour maximum health limits in some places, said Hystad, who studies the health effects associated with exposure to air pollution, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancer.
Particles from wildfire differ from industrial or vehicle emission pollution, but are still hazardous, Hystad said.
"Smoke from wildfires is typically a short-term event, whereas long-term exposure to these other sources of air pollution occurs daily," he said. "This is why we are most concerned with wildfire smoke being a trigger for health events in susceptible populations who already have a pre-existing condition, such as asthma or heart disease."
Individuals with existing respiratory or cardiovascular conditions, as well as the elderly and the very young, are most susceptible to the types of short-term elevations in air pollution like those being experienced in Oregon, he said.
Generally healthy individuals will not experience health effects from these high concentrations, although they can be irritating.
Hystad offers these tips for coping:
- Stay indoors, close the windows and use an air conditioner if available.
- Avoid strenuous outdoor activity.
- Consider wearing a mask if you work outside. Avoid surgical masks, which are ineffective at filtering fine particles, and look for types that block small particles, such as an N-95 type.
Air quality updates can be found online at www.airnow.gov.