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What’s in the Air?

This is the summer of smoke. Our air in many parts of the U.S is contaminated with smoke from wildfires burning in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, Canada in addition to those in our own country, including in the states of Oregon and California.

We not only smell it, but we also see the haze and orange cast at sunset. The intensity of the smoke in the air varies daily, as well as throughout the day. For some of us, any level is intolerable.


I’m certainly struggling. I can’t be outside long before I’m coughing, my eyes water, and a headache develops. People with asthma, such as myself, and those with COPD, heart disease, or are pregnant, in addition to children and outdoor workers, are most affected.


The fires in Canada are expected to burn for months, and according to the National Interagency Fire Center, the U.S. has 45 large fires currently burning in eight states. Scientists have seen these fires increase over time and predict the situation to continue worsening, which will take a toll on all of us. Long-term exposure to wildfire smoke can increase the risk of respiratory diseases, lung cancer, and brain tumors.


Air pollution from wildfires contains pollutants including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and ground-level ozone that worsens respiratory conditions and causes throat irritation, headaches, and chest pain. Most harmful is the fine particle matter, known as PM2.5.


PM2.5 is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter–significantly smaller in diameter than that of a human hair. This matter results from the combustion of fossil fuels, dust storms, and wildfires. When inhaled, it has the potential to weaken the immune system, cause inflammation, affect lung tissue, and enter the bloodstream reaching all parts of the body.


Wildfires are considerably more potent, but all wood burning fires, including those in home fireplaces and outdoor fire pits, produce gasses and harmful particles. In addition, homeowners often burn household materials in their home fires that produce toxic emissions when combusted.


To find local air quality information, check radio and TV weather reports, The Weather Channel, National Weather Service, AccuWeather, or AirNow.gov.

These sites offer an Air Quality Scale that is noted with the following ranges:

  1. Excellent: 0-9. The air quality is ideal.

  2. Fair: 20-49. Air quality is acceptable for most everyone. Sensitive groups may experience some symptoms with long-term exposure.

  3. Poor: 50-99. There is a high level of pollution in the air and is unhealthy for sensitive groups.

  4. Unhealthy: 100-149. Sensitive groups will experience health effects immediately. Healthy individuals may have difficulty breathing and throat irritation.

  5. Very Unhealthy: 150-249. Sensitive groups should avoid outdoor activity. Healthy individuals are likely to experience breathing difficulties and throat irritation. Remaining indoors is recommended.

  6. Dangerous: 250+. Everyone has the potential for serious health effects even with little exposure to outside air.

To help prevent wildfires, check the U.S. Department of the Interior website for recommendations.


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