KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – Klamath County Public Health (KCPH) officials report that the air quality index was in the hazardous range at 7 a.m. this morning. The infiltration of wildfire smoke from the California fires is creating a health risk for the community.
The Department of Environmental Quality officials said the infiltration will continue through Wednesday. Weather projections indicate improvement throughout Wednesday, primarily late in the day, with the best air quality seen Thursday. DEQ is issuing a air quality advisory for Klamath and other counties through Wednesday evening.
Smoke from wildfires is a mixture of gases and fine particles from burning trees and other plant materials. Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases.
Currently, masks and respirators known to protect against wildfire smoke particles, the N95, are in short supply and are being reserved as personal protective equipment for health professionals. The best way to reduce smoke exposure is to stay indoors.
Know if you are at risk:
- If you have heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, COPD, emphysema or asthma, you are at higher risk of having health problems from smoke.
- Older adults are more likely to be affected by smoke, because they are more likely to have heart or lung diseases than younger people.
- Children are more likely to be affected by health threats from smoke because their airways are still developing and because they breathe more air per pound of body weight than adults. Children also are more likely to be active outdoors.
Recommendations for people with chronic diseases include:
- Have an adequate supply of medication (more than five days).
- If you have asthma, make sure you have a written asthma management plan.
- If you have heart disease, check with your health care providers about precautions to take during smoke events.
- If you plan to use a portable air cleaner, select a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter or an electro-static precipitator (ESP). Buy one that matches the room size specified by the manufacturer.
- Call your health care provider if your condition gets worse when you are exposed to smoke.
“Everyone should limit their exposure to smoke,” said Jennifer Little, KCPH director. “Indoor air should be kept as clean as possible. Burning items, such as candles, and vacuuming can add more pollution into the mix.”
Know the numbers
During periods of impact from wildfire smoke, community members will notice discussion of the air quality index number. This number is most helpful when residents know its meaning. KCPH wants to help the community “know the numbers”. High temperatures can make the smoky conditions more uncomfortable. Knowing the range of air quality numbers can help people make good choices about outdoor activities.
The six levels of the air quality index are:
Hourly updates are available at https://oraqi.deq.state.or.us/home/map.
Estimating visibility using the 5-3-1 Index
Determine the limit of your visual range by looking for distant targets or familiar landmarks such as mountains or buildings at known distances (miles). The visual range is that point at which these targets are no longer visible. As a general rule of thumb: if you can clearly see the outlines of individual trees on the horizon it is less than five miles away.
Ideally, the viewing of any distance targets should be made with the sun behind you. Looking into the sun or at an angle increases the ability of sunlight to reflect off of the smoke, and makes the visibility estimate less reliable.
Once distance has been determined, follow this simple guide:
· If visibility is well over five miles, the air quality is generally good.
· Even if visibility is five miles away but generally hazy, air quality is moderate and beginning to deteriorate, and is generally healthy, except possibly for smoke sensitive persons. The general public should avoid prolonged exposure if conditions are smoky to the point where visibility is closer to the 5-mile range.
· If under five miles, the air quality is unhealthy for young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness. These people should minimize outdoor activity.
· If under three miles, the air quality is unhealthy for everyone. Young children, adults over age 65, pregnant women, and people with heart and/or lung disease, asthma or other respiratory illness. These people should minimize outdoor activity.
· If under one mile, the air quality is unhealthy for everyone. Everyone should avoid all outdoor activities.
Using the 5-3-1 Visibility Index:
No matter how far you can see, if you feel like you are having health effects from smoke exposure, take extra care to stay inside or get to an area with better air quality. You should also see your doctor or other health professional as needed.
* less reliable under high humidity conditions