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Ready for Smoke-pocalypse 2019? The Whatcom Health Department recommends these steps

Here’s how to prepare for wildfire smoke and the unhealthy air it brings

Washington state health officials are urging residents to be prepared for smoky days with poor air quality as wildfire season heats up. Seniors, young children and people with existing respiratory problems are especially vulnerable.
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Washington state health officials are urging residents to be prepared for smoky days with poor air quality as wildfire season heats up. Seniors, young children and people with existing respiratory problems are especially vulnerable.

It you stick around Whatcom County long enough, you’re sure to hear somebody utter the cliché about summer not really starting around here until after the Fourth of July.

Unfortunately, the past couple of summers have shown that summer only lasts until about Aug. 5 — after that, it’s smoke season. The past two summers, Whatcom County residents have been robbed of some of the best days of the year to be outdoors, as smoke from destructive wildfires in British Columbia, Oregon, California, Eastern Washington and seemingly everywhere else poured into our area.

Before our pristine blue summer skies begin to turn into the nasty yellowish haze you’d swear you could cut with a knife, there are things each of us can do to prepare for the smoke. The Whatcom County Health Department on Monday, July 1, put out a press release detailing steps residents can take now to prepare for the unhealthy air quality days that are likely ahead.

“Breathing smoke from wildfires isn’t healthy for anyone, but some people are more likely to have health problems when the air quality isn’t good,” the release said.

Those most at risk include children younger than 18, adults older than 65, people with heart and lung diseases, respiratory illnesses, colds or who have had a stroke along with smokers and pregnant women.

“The best way to protect your health when the air is smoky is to limit time outdoors and reduce physical activity,” the release said. “This is especially important for people who are at risk for health problems when air quality isn’t good.”

Air quality worsened into the “very unhealthy” range in Bellingham on Tuesday, August 21. People who still decided to go outdoors had different feelings about the air they were breathing.

To prepare for times that the air quality does deteriorate, the Health Department suggested these tips to begin now:

Stay informed: The Health Department recommended knowing where to go to get information about air quality, suggesting the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Air Quality Monitoring website, which shows air quality statewide in a color-coded map. The Northwest Clean Air Agency also provides up-to-date air quality information for our corner of the state.

Talk to your doctor: Anybody who either has been diagnosed or has a family member who has been diagnosed with asthma or COPD should talk to their doctor about what to do when air quality is unhealthy, make sure they have necessary medications and know how to manage symptoms.

Prepare indoors: Learn about indoor air filtration options and consider getting an air purifier to keep the air you breathe indoors healthier. Also, make sure you know how to use air conditioning in your car and home and set it to recirculate. The Health Department also recommends you chose a room and designated it as a “clean air room” and make sure your car has a HEPA-equivalent air filter.

Prepare indoor activities: If you exercise outdoors, send the kids to outdoor summer camps or expect to be outdoors on vacation, you may need to change your plans to indoor activities if the air quality gets bad. Have ideas in mind.

Plan for the worst: If you need to leave the area when air quality becomes hazardous, develop a relocation plan.

The release said respiratory masks can offer limited protection from wildfire smoke but should be used only after first trying other, more effective ways to avoid the smoke, such as staying indoors and limiting outdoor activity. Masks labeled N95 or N100 that are properly fitted offer some protection but do not work for children, people with beards or people with health conditions, such as asthma or heart disease, the release said.

Smoky Outside? Here are some health tips for dealing with wildfire smoke

More resources

Washington State Department of Health Smoke From Wildfires website

Washington State Department of Heath Wildfires website

Washington State Smoke Blog

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
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