Haze from wildfires worsens, reaching dangerous and unhealthy levels

2014-07-18T18:30:00Z 2014-07-21T06:46:04Z Haze from wildfires worsens, reaching dangerous and unhealthy levelsBy NICK BALATSOS nbalatsos@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Air quality Friday rapidly deteriorated overnight into Saturday as westerly gusts continued to dump swept up smoke from wildfires in central and eastern Washington on much of Montana.

The mix has conjured up a dangerous batch of haze for Billings and the rest of the state that is expected to stick throughout the weekend. 

Aaron Gilstad, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Billings, said the haze will remain unless the winds shift, a different weather system moves in and clears things up or the fires are put out.

But Gilstad said he expects the smoky air to be around at least into next week.

The air quality across Montana Saturday reached "very unhealthy" conditions in Missoula and Frenchtown, and "unhealthy" levels in other western parts of the state, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality's website. 

Health effects for the classification include "significant aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; significant risk of respiratory effects in the general population."

The DEQ recommends people in those areas "avoid prolonged exertion," and those "with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children should avoid any outdoor activity."

The air quality also declined in Billings, going from a “moderate” classification Friday to "unhealthy for sensitive groups" Saturday.

The classification indicates an “increasing likelihood of respiratory symptoms in sensitive individuals, aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly,” according to the site.

RiverStone Health sanitarian Clark Snyder said the air quality poses health concerns. He cautioned people to pay attention to their health.

He said those who are experiencing symptoms — coughing, difficulty breathing and irritated sinuses, to list a few — should contact their doctor.

If air quality reaches the “unhealthy” category, or for those who are experiencing any symptoms, Snyder discourages spending extended periods of time outside.

One way to limit exposure to the smoky air, Snyder said, is to keep car windows up and the air conditioning circulating air while driving.

There are myriad ways that wildfire smoke can cause harm, according to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases,” the CDC’s website states, and everyone is potentially susceptible to its effects.

The CDC offers a list of side effects of breathing wildfire smoke, which can be found here.

And for updated air quality reports, visit www.deq.mt.gov/FireUpdates/.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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