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Heavy smoke in Salmon prompts health advisory, Treasure Valley’s air inches into ‘good’ range

Air quality in Lemhi and Custer counties has hit the “very unhealthy” category, prompting warnings from the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare to stay indoors as much as possible; older adults, young children and those with medical conditions will be most affected, but it's bad enough that everyone is being advised to avoid heavy work or exercise outdoors in the affected areas. “Salmon's getting inundated with smoke,” said Mike Toole of the Idaho DEQ. “They're in the 'very unhealthy' category continually.”

Meanwhile, the Treasure Valley's air has improved so much that it's actually inched into the green or “good” category, though the forecast was for it to stay in the yellow or “moderate” range. Current pollution is in the 40s on the air quality index, at the high end of the “good” category that ends at 50. “The forecasts we made were actually high,” Toole said. “It's fantastic. … We've actually experienced a lot better air quality than we anticipated.” Favorable wind and weather conditions have cleared the valley's air so well that even when changing conditions bring smoke back in, it's likely not to get as bad as it's been in recent weeks, Toole said.

Because wildfire smoke is such a highly visible pollutant, people who live in areas without air monitors can tell how bad it gets just by looking. “If visibility is reduced to less than eight miles, sensitive groups should limit activity,” Health & Welfare advises in a statement today. “If visibility is reduced to less than three miles, air quality is considered unhealthy for everyone. Visibility of less than one mile is considered hazardous and everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors.” People in Salmon who lack air conditioning are being advised to visit the Salmon Public Library or Salmon Valley Baptist Church for relief from the smoke; click below for Health & Welfare's full advisory.


   www.healthandwelfare.idaho.gov

NEWS RELEASE—FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE  
Date: Sept. 4, 2012                                                             

Air quality in Lemhi, Custer counties considered ‘very unhealthy’

Public health officials are alerting people in those counties to stay inside as much as possible to protect themselves from the very unhealthy air.

The Department of Environmental Quality is forecasting very unhealthy levels for the Central Mountain areas of Idaho, particularly the Salmon area. Because of wildfire activity and weather patterns, air quality conditions are not expected to significantly improve in the next few days.

People exposed to smoke may experience coughing and shortness of breath. Older adults, infants, children and people with medical conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and heart disease are more affected. People who use inhalers for asthma or other conditions should keep them close at hand. Everyone is advised to seek medical treatment for uncontrolled coughing, wheezing, choking, or if breathing difficulty continues once they are indoors. To reduce their exposure to smoke and protect their health, public health officials advise:

·       Everyone should avoid heavy work or exercising outdoors when the air quality index reaches unhealthy levels.

·       Older adults, small children, and those with respiratory conditions or heart disease may be more sensitive to poor air quality and should stay indoors and avoid heavy work when air quality reaches unhealthy levels.

·       Stay well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Staying hydrated helps dilute phlegm in the respiratory tract, making it easier to cough out smoke particles. Plan to cough; it is nature’s way of clearing your lungs. Avoid caffeine products, sugary drinks and alcohol because they have a dehydrating effect.

·       Stay cool if the weather is warm. Run your air conditioner to re-circulate air. Turn the fan blower to manual so it continuously filters the air in your home.

·       For homes without a central heating and/or cooling system, use portable air purifiers to remove particles (air purifiers that utilize HEPA filters are best, avoid using air purifiers that produce ozone). Visit areas in your community that have air conditioning, such as a library. In Salmon, residents are encouraged to go to the Salmon Public Library, 204 Main St., or to the Salmon Valley Baptist Church, 1140 N. Cemetery Lane.

·       If you wear contact lenses, switch to eyeglasses in a smoky environment.

Not all areas of the state have air quality monitors, so people are encouraged to be cautious if visibility is affected because of smoke and particulates from wildfires.  If visibility is reduced to less than eight miles, sensitive groups should limit activity. If visibility is reduced to less than three miles, air quality is considered unhealthy for everyone. Visibility of less than one mile is considered hazardous and everyone should avoid all physical activity outdoors.

Link to air quality guidelines for schools and community event organizers here.

Daily updates on air quality conditions at various locations in Idaho are available on DEQ's Air Quality Reports and Forecasts webpage. For areas where air quality monitors are not available, the Visibility Range and AQI Table can help determine the necessary precautions to take. Read current wildfire smoke information and more tips.

For more information on how to protect against wildfire smoke, read the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wildfires Factsheet.

Information on the fires in your area is available on www.inciweb.org


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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