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Recent smoke from fires ‘the dirtiest air’ Washington has ever seen

Smoke along the Seattle skyline. (MyNorthwest photo)

Air quality in the Puget Sound region has seen “modest improvements” since earlier in the week, but still remains in the “very unhealthy” category.

According to the National Weather Service, a “dose of light rain” Tuesday night slightly improved air quality. Even so, more smoke “is expected to move up from the south into the area” on Wednesday.

Conditions for most of the Puget Sound region are not expected to improve until Thursday night or 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 Wednesday evening, air quality from Bellingham to Olympia ranges between 175 to 220, settling around 200 in most parts of Seattle. While that represents a small improvement over Tuesday’s conditions, air quality still resides firmly in the “very unhealthy” category. You can monitor ongoing air quality through the Washington Department of Ecology’s interactive map here.

An air quality warning for Western Washington extends through 12 p.m. Thursday. In Eastern Washington, the air quality warning runs through 12 p.m. Friday.

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 as well.

Historic levels of poor quality in Washington

The Washington Department of Ecology published a blog post Tuesday, detailing how recent air quality seen over the last week is “the dirtiest air we’ve had to breathe as a state.” That being so, it’s also not the longest amount of time Washingtonians have had to endure smoke for.

State residents spent more time “breathing compromised air” in both 2017 and 2018, thanks in large part to a “late start to the wildfire season this year.” In terms of time spent in the “hazardous” category, though, 2020 still tops the list, “and the season isn’t over yet.”

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.

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