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Here’s what the wildfire smoke has done to Bellingham’s air quality

Smoke from B.C. wildfires chokes Whatcom County again

Whatcom County is under an air quality alert Monday, August 20 due to smoke from wildfires in British Columbia. Some improvement is anticipated late Wednesday.
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Whatcom County is under an air quality alert Monday, August 20 due to smoke from wildfires in British Columbia. Some improvement is anticipated late Wednesday.

Overall air quality in Bellingham and Whatcom County remains among the best in the nation, even though recent hot summers and wildfire smoke have taken their toll, a new report said.

In the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report, issued every April, Bellingham tied for first place among the cleanest metropolitan areas in the country for ozone pollution.

But Bellingham was 52nd out of 186 metropolitan areas for 24-hour particle pollution — that’s smoke — and 193rd of 201 metropolitan areas for annual particle pollution.

Higher numbers mean better air quality, according to an email from the American Lung Association and the Northwest Clean Air Agency.

Bellingham was 19th for annual particle pollution in last year’s report, and was among the cleanest U.S. cities for 24-hour particle pollution — meaning that monitors recorded no unhealthy air days.

“Whatcom County and Bellingham have ranked very highly for several years — among the nation’s best for both ozone and fine particle pollution,” said Seth Preston, spokesman for the Northwest Clean Air Agency.

“But the wildfire smoke in 2017 really impacted the results and it will happen again in next year’s report because of it will include data from both 2017 and 2018,” Preston said in an email.

Whatcom County received an overall A grade for ozone this year, a C for 24-hour particle pollution and a “pass” for annual particle pollution, according to the report.

Measurements were for the years 2015-2017, the report said.

Smoke from wildfires in British Columbia, Eastern Washington and California has fouled the late summer skies over Western Washington for the past two years, and scientists think that because of climate change it could become the new norm.

Bellingham saw some of its worst air historically in 2018, with two August days in the “very unhealthy” range for particulates.

Another warm, dry summer is forecast for the West, leading officials to fear a return of smoky skies.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.
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