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Air quality remains ‘very unhealthy to hazardous’ with stubborn smoke across Washington

The Space Needle flies an American flag at half-mast in remembrance of the Sept. 11 attacks as the sun sets through wildfire smoke on September 11, 2020 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

Forecasters say smoke is gradually moving east as a weak system moves into the area. The new system also brings with it a chance of rain Monday night.

Check the Washington Department of Ecology Air Quality Map

Photos: Thick smoke blankets Seattle

Most areas surrounding Seattle, including Bellevue, Tacoma, and Everett, spent most of Sunday in the 250-310 air quality range. Cle Elum and areas near the Columbia River are at or near 500. The National Weather Service issued a Dense Smoke Advisory, covering the lower Columbia – Vancouver area through late Sunday night. The smoke and fog combination may mean visibility is a quarter of a mile or less at times.

The remainder of the region is under an Air Quality Alert until 11 a.m. Monday, which recommends people stay indoors with windows and doors closed.

Smoke arrived in Spokane Saturday morning, with air quality in the mid to high 400 range. The Tri-Cities were also in the low 400 range.  Ocean towns and Port Angeles were in the low 300 range.

Air quality is typically measured on a scale of 0 to 500. Between 51 and 100 is considered “moderate,” 101 to 150 is “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” 151 to 200 is “unhealthy,” 201 to 300 is “very unhealthy,” and 301 to 500 is considered “hazardous.”

Protecting your health

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency recommends staying indoors with the windows closed as much as possible.

The agency’s Dr. Phil Swartzendruber told CBS that people are inhaling what is essentially microscopic tar and creosote, similar to what might collect in your chimney.

“That’s essentially what the smoke is,” Swartzendruber said. “So that’s getting deep into the lungs and penetrating into the lungs. That can aggravate the system, can cause a stressor on the heart and lungs.”

To stay indoors or not? Advice for wildfire smoke and COVID-19 safety

While smoke remains, residents are advised to keep windows closed and avoid going outdoors whenever possible, especially those with preexisting respiratory problems. Find additional tips from the state Department of Health on how to protect yourself from smoke online here.

“Unhealthy air quality means that everyone, especially sensitive groups, should limit time spent outdoors, avoid strenuous activities outdoors, and choose light indoor activities,” the NWS states.

Seattle closes all beaches and parks through Sunday for smoke

The Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences at the University of Washington has put together a list of tips for dealing with smoke. Besides closing windows and staying indoors, the DEOHS recommends people avoid vacuuming or frying food. Also, try to recirculate air with a fan that has a filter. You can build your own by putting a HEPA filter into a box fan.

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