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Smoke, air quality ‘primary issue’ across Western Washington on Tuesday

Wildfire smoke obscures the view of Elliott Bay as a person bikes past a Pike Place Market sign. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

Smoke and poor air quality persisted on Tuesday, despite light rain in the morning, and it’ll hang around through the rest of the week.

Check the Air Quality Map

“Smoke and air quality will remain the primary issue across (Western Washington) through much of the week,” the National Weather Service said in its latest forecast.

Rain on Tuesday marked the first measurable showers in the region in September, but only resulted in around five-hundredths of an inch near Seattle.

“Given current observations and trends to the air quality, do not expect smoke to scour out much today or Wednesday,” the NWS predicted.

“Expect the status quo to continue,” Dr. Ranil Dhammapala with the Washington State Department of Ecology echoed in a Tuesday blog post. “Not pinning too much hopes on the weather system and slight rain expected tonight either. Substantial clearing will have to wait until the Friday-Saturday timeframe.”

An air quality warning for Western Washington — originally set to expire at 11 a.m. Monday — now extends through 12 p.m. Thursday. In Eastern Washington, the air quality warning runs through 12 p.m. Friday.

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.”

As of early Tuesday evening, air quality from Bellingham to Olympia ranges between 180 and 320, settling around 300 across most of Seattle. You can monitor ongoing air quality through the Washington Department of Ecology’s interactive map here.

Seattle parks, beaches, and boat ramps will remain closed at least through Wednesday as a result of ongoing air quality concerns. A smoke shelter for the city’s homeless in Seattle’s SoDo neighborhood will stay open through Wednesday.

The smoke is also forcing Alaska Airlines to cancel all flights in and out of Oregon, including Portland, Medford, and Eugene. Alaska Airlines is also canceling flights to and from Spokane through Tuesday afternoon.

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.”

Can COVID masks protect against Washington wildfire smoke?

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.

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.

KIRO 7 TV staff contributed to this report.

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