Tiny particles in smoke haze can aggravate lung, heart disease

Particles about 30 times smaller than a human hair are creating a worsening haze over the North Olympic Peninsula as northerly winds sweep smoke from British Columbia wildfires into the North Olympic Peninsula.

That haze is especially hazardous for children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with lung or heart disease.

The smoky haze is largely made up of fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5. The tiny particles can travel deeply into the respiratory tract into the lungs. This can cause coughing, sneezing, throat irritation and shortness of breath as well as aggravation of existing respiratory and heart disease.

Unhealthy air is forecast for the Peninsula and much of Washington state through Wednesday. The alert for the Peninsula should be lifted at 5 pm. Wednesday, the National Weather Service said on its website, www.weather.gov/sew/, on Sunday.

Alerts for counties in the southwest portion of the state are expected to be lifted at noon Wednesday and by noon Tuesday for counties in central Washington.

Residents of Clallam and Jefferson counties had a brief reprieve from wildfire smoke Thursday after reaching “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy” Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) levels earlier in the week.

The WAQA value measuring air pollution posted on the Olympic Region Clean Air Agency website at www.orcaa.org showed values in either the “good” rating or the “moderate” rating Thursday with clear skies and the smell of fresh air.

But by Friday, haze had rolled back into the area. By midday Sunday, values remained in the “moderate” rating in Port Angeles and in the “good” rating in Port Townsend. Air quality at Cheeka Peak on the Makah Reservation was rising and falling between “moderate” and “unhealthy for sensitive individuals” ratings. Readings are at tinyurl.com/PDN-Quality.

The National Weather Service expects pollution to worsen for the next few days. That means that those most sensitive to smoke should stay indoors if possible and keep indoor air as clean as possible.

The Centers for Disease Control said that dust masks won’t protect lungs from P.M. 2.5 particles. Respirator masks rated at N95 or P100 are needed.

Fires in Canada are heavily impacting air quality in the northern United States. Alerts are in place for northern Montana and much of Minnesota as well as the Pacific Northwest.

British Columbia declared a state of emergency Wednesday in light of more than 550 wildfires burning in the province, including on Vancouver Island.

The state of emergency was one of four that have been issued because of wildfires: 1996, 2003, 2017 and 2018.

Bad air advisories were in effect Sunday for much of Vancouver Island and the Fraser Valley.

Adding pollution to the Northwest air are fires in Eastern Washington and Mason County’s Maple Fire which, as of Sunday, covered 1,727 acres and was 44 percent contained. That fire was human-caused and is under investigation.

Fires in California and elsewhere in the U.S. west are prompting air quality alerts in the Southwest.

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Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at [email protected] news.com.

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