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Public Health: Smoke safety key as weather warms

While the region has had a mild summer so far, Clark County Public Health is advising residents to prepare for upcoming smoky, unhealthy air quality.

According to a Public Health news release, breathing smoke generated by wildfires can be particularly harmful for sensitive groups such as children, adults older than 65, people with heart and lung diseases, pregnant women, people with respiratory infections or colds, people who smoke and anyone who has had a stroke.

At the June meeting of the Clark County Board of Health, epidemiologist Kathleen Lovgren said that Public Health’s own research showed increased emergency department visits in Clark and Multnomah counties during the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge.

The Eagle Creek Fire was started Sept. 2, 2017, by a Vancouver teenager and lingered into November. The worst air-quality days during the fire occurred Sept. 4 through 6.

There were more than 160 asthma-related emergency department visits in Clark and Multnomah counties on Sept. 5, 2017. That is about twice as many visits as there were in the days leading up to the fire.

Public Health recommends people reduce physical activity and limit outdoor time when air quality is poor. There are steps you can take to prepare for poor air quality from wildfire smoke this summer, according to Public Health:

• The Washington State Department of Ecology’s Air Quality Monitoring website has a map of air quality statewide: The map uses color-coded categories to report when air quality is good, moderate or unhealthy. The Southwest Clean Air Agency has current air quality information for Clark, Cowlitz and Lewis counties and may issue advisories when poor air quality is forecast. Their website is:

• Talk to your doctor about precautions to take when air quality is unhealthy. Make sure you have the necessary medications, and ask your doctor how to manage symptoms and when to seek medical care.

• Develop a relocation plan in case you need to leave the area when air quality is hazardous.

• Consider purchasing a portable air cleaner with a high-efficiency particulate air filter. Make sure your vehicle has a HEPA-equivalent air filter.

• Know how to turn the air conditioner in your home and vehicle to the recirculate setting to avoid bringing smoky outdoor air inside.

• Create a plan for alternatives to outdoor family activities. If the air quality is unhealthy, you may need to exercise indoors, find alternatives to outdoor summer camps or change vacation arrangements.

• Consider purchasing a respirator mask labeled N95 or N100 and learn how to properly wear it. People who must be outside for extended periods of time in smoky air may benefit from wearing one of these masks, if worn correctly. If the mask does not fit properly, it will provide little or no protection and may offer a false sense of security. These masks are not recommended for children or people with beards. People with lung disease, heart disease or who are chronically ill should consult a health care provider before using a mask.

When air is smoky, these additional steps can help protect you and your family:

• Limit time outdoors and avoid vigorous physical activity.

• Keep windows and doors closed.

• Don’t pollute your indoor air. Avoid burning candles, using aerosol products, frying food and smoking.

• Do not vacuum unless using a vacuum with a HEPA filter. Vacuuming stirs up dust and smoke particles.

• Use an air cleaner with a HEPA filter.


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