Big Sky Roundup

DEQ: Air quality alerts continue as counties in western Montana reach unhealthy levels

By: - September 12, 2022 4:40 pm

Air quality in Helena from todaysair.mtdeq.us.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality has issued air quality alerts for most western Montana counties where air quality has reached unhealthy levels, and improvements aren’t expected until Tuesday.

In a news release Monday, the DEQ said many active wildfires in western Montana, Idaho, and eastern Oregon are putting out smoke that has blanketed much of the state.

Air quality alerts have been issued for the following counties: Beaverhead, Blaine, Broadwater, Cascade, Chouteau, Deer Lodge, Fergus, Flathead, Gallatin, Glacier, Golden Valley, Granite, Hill, Jefferson, Judith Basin, Lake, Lewis and Clark, Liberty, Lincoln, Madison, Meagher, Mineral, Missoula, Musselshell, Petroleum, Phillips, Pondera, Powell, Ravalli, Sanders, Silver Bow, Stillwater, Sweet Grass, Teton, Toole, Wheatland and Yellowstone.

Air quality is anticipated to remain in the unhealthy range with conditions improving Tuesday as a low-pressure trough sets into motion a series of disturbances as early as Monday night, the DEQ said. Some isolated showers may occur in southwest Montana. But the DEQ said given the amount of smoke present and the relative strength of the trough, air quality impacts are expected through Tuesday.

Residents and visitors are encouraged to check air quality regularly and follow the guidelines associated with the air quality levels. Where air monitors aren’t present, use visibility guidelines to estimate air quality. To check air quality visit: todaysair.mtdeq.us

The DEQ also noted the following:

Exposure to wildfire pollutants can irritate the lungs, cause inflammation, alter immune function and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections, including COVID-19. Populations known to be most vulnerable to wildfire smoke exposure include children, senior citizens, pregnant people, people with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease — including asthma and diabetes — and outdoor workers.

Other factors that may contribute to increased vulnerability include homelessness and limited access to medical care. Respiratory symptoms such as dry cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing are common to both wildfire smoke exposure and COVID-19. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or chest pain, you should seek prompt medical attention by calling 911 or calling ahead to the nearest emergency facility.

When air quality is unhealthy, state agencies encourage Montanans and visitors to consider the following tips to protect their health:

  • Before heading outside for any physical activity, check for air quality updates and pay attention to any hazardous air quality advisories. Air quality information is updated regularly at:  todaysair.mtdeq.us
  • When wildfires occur, continue to monitor DEQ’s site for changes in air quality.
  • An N95 respirator offers protection against wildfire smoke particulate matter when worn correctly to achieve a proper fit and seal. However, the use of filtering facepiece respirators can cause breathing issues for some individuals. For this reason, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease, should consult with their healthcare provider prior to respirator use. Respirators do not come in sizes suitable for children, so they are not effective at reducing wildfire smoke exposure for this population.
  • If the air quality is poor, limit outdoor activities and keep your indoor air clean by shutting all doors and windows and setting any air conditioning units to recirculate indoor air.
  • Consider using HEPA air cleaners indoors to reduce overall smoke exposure.
  • Pay attention to visibility. How far can you see in the distance? Visibility conditions can help estimate air quality.
  • Maintain an adequate supply of food and medication (more than five days).
  • If you have a chronic lung or heart condition, check with your health care providers before the fire season about precautions to take during smoke events.
  • Do not perform any activities that will add to indoor pollution such as lighting candles.
  • Use the “air recirculate” feature in vehicles when possible.
  • If traveling, check the air quality at your destination and have a back-up plan.
  • For information about how to protect your health during wildfire season, go to: https://dphhs.mt.gov/airquality

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