Unhealthy air is unusual for Western Washington summer
The smoky haze hovering over Western Washington is not common for this time of year, even with wildfire season in full effect.
“This is unusual for this summer for us,” said Craig Kenworthy, director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. “We do see unhealthy levels in the winter in some locations when we have a stagnation event and there is a lot of wood burning going on. We are over the trigger for calling a burn ban in the winter. We are definitely in unusual territory.”
“It’s a situation for people who are in sensitive groups, it definitely has some risks associated with it,” he said. “But even for healthy people, it might not cause particular harm to that one relatively young healthy individual, but there are some risks associated when we get up to these types of pollution levels.”
Kenworthy says people should be prepared for smoky conditions for a couple months.
“As long as we are seeing the scale of fires in California and to some degree Oregon,” Kenworthy said. “… the way California is looking this year, we are probably going to have risks into late September, October potentially.”
Forecasters say that the current smoke event from wildfires is expected to clear Tuesday evening or Wednesday as “surface flow shifts onshore.”
That basically means the wind will shift and blow the smoky air out of the region. Meanwhile, the National Weather Service in Seattle says air quality sensors in locations around the region indicate moderate to unhealthy for sensitive groups. With little change until at least Tuesday night, conditions will either remain the same or degrade.
According to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, there was no “good” air spanning Snohomish, King, Kitsap, and Pierce Counties. The best quality rose to “moderate in a handful of communities, such as Bellevue and South Seattle. But most of the region was “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”
The agency rates air quality with four factors from “Good” to “unhealthy.”
The NWS says children, the elderly, and individuals with respiratory illnesses are often the most at risk of health risks and should limit or completely avoid spending time outside.
“Even if they can get a temporary reduction in exposure,” Kenworthy said. “So let’s say someone doesn’t have air conditioning in their home, if they can get to a public library, a shopping space, even temporary relief can reduce the risk for them.”
The agency recommends: staying indoors as much as possible; limiting physical activity; closing all windows; avoid driving; if you must drive, keep all windows closed and recirculate air from inside the vehicle.
The National Interagency Fire Center reports “106 large fires have burned 1.8 million acres in 15 states. More than 28,000 firefighters, support personnel, military and national guard soldiers are assigned to these incidents. To date, 40,384 fires have burned 5.8 million acres in the U.S.”