Everything tagged

Latest from The Spokesman-Review

North Idaho air quality hits unhealthy levels

The air quality in North Idaho reached hazardous levels Wednesday due to smoke from multiple wildfires. According to AirNow, a government resource which provides daily Air Quality Index readings for more than 400 cities, conditions in Coeur d'Alene were unhealthy on Wednesday. That rating, determined by calculating the prevalence of five major air pollutants, comes with a warning for all residents to minimize time spent outdoors and any activity involving heavy exertion. Dr. Kevin Chang, a pulmonologist at North Idaho Lung and Asthma, told The Press Wednesday that the region's poor air quality has kept his office busy. "It's been steady and we've been getting a fair amount of phone calls from our patients," he said/Keith Cousins, Coeur d'Alene Press. More here.

DEQ extends statewide air quality advisory through the weekend, all open burning prohibited

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has extended its statewide air quality advisory through the weekend, due to continuing smoke impacts from wildfires. “Air quality remains in the moderate to unhealthy categories throughout most of the state. Although changing weather may bring intermittent periods of clearing, significant clearing of smoke is not forecast to occur over the next couple of days,” said Morrie Lewis, the DEQ’s smoke management program coordinator.

The rare statewide advisory, first issued on Wednesday, is now in effect through 2 p.m. on Monday, when conditions will be evaluated again on a county-by-county basis. It means all open burning is banned, including , including campfires, recreational fires, weed control burning, and residential burning. There’s more info here.

DEQ issues rare statewide air quality advisory

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has issued a rare statewide air quality advisory, with smoke from wildfires pushing air quality into at least the moderate to unhealthy range everywhere in the state, and in some areas near the north-central Idaho wildfires, into the “very unhealthy” range. The last statewide air quality advisory was issued in September of 2012.

Under the advisory, all open burning is prohibited, including campfires, recreational fires, weed control burning, and residential burning. “We’re just trying to get the message out that it’s not a good day for adding to the smoke that’s already out there,” said Morrie Lewis, smoke management program coordinator for the DEQ. “We don’t have much control over smoke from wildfires, but there are things that we can do to help – don’t burn under these conditions, limit your emissions if possible by limiting driving and postponing yardwork activities and outdoor activities if possible, and just know yourself, know your health, if you’re in a sensitive group , older adults, young children, those with medical conditions, that are more sensitive to poor air quality, stay indoors, seek medical attention if necessary, and if you’re not sure, call your doctor.”

Air quality in Boise currently ranks as unhealthy for sensitive groups. The restrictions under the advisory don’t apply on Indian reservations or to fire suppression activities.

Air quality statewide is forecast to remain in the moderate to unhealthy categories for the next 24 to 36 hours. The DEQ has a wildfire smoke info page here, and a guide to health impacts of various pollution levels here; the state Department of Health & Welfare has health tips here.

It’s a hazy smoky day out there

The air quality is deteriorating around us as quickly as reports come in from monitoring stations all over the city and in Spokane Valley. For up to the minute air quality updates visit the Spokane Clean Air Agency. Current air quality (a bit past noon on Monday) is orange which means unhealthy for sensitive groups. 

Spokane haze from The Spokesman-Review on Vimeo.

Wildfires have created smoky conditions around Spokane.


Weather Service: Blame Siberia for last night’s red sunset…

Last night’s Boise sunset featured a sullenly glowing red sun, looking more like a Los Angeles sunset than an Idaho one. Here’s a news item from the Associated Press suggesting the cause was far-off fires in Khakassia, a region in southeastern Siberia: PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The National Weather Service says wildfires in Siberia are to blame for haze hanging over much of the Pacific Northwest, giving sunsets a red hue. Forecasters in Portland expect the smoke to dissipate Monday, which is expected to be another warm and sunny day. Large fires burning in Khakassia, a region in southeastern Siberia, were started by farmers burning the grass in their fields. They spread out of control because of strong winds, killing more than a dozen people and destroying hundreds of homes.

Smoke plume from California wildfire rolls into Boise, blankets valley

Foul-smelling smoke from a huge wildfire in northern California that's burned hundreds of homes and other structures rolled into Boise this morning, limiting visibility, diminishing air quality and staining the sky a brownish-grey. “With the way the jet stream’s going and the wind patterns, we got hit with the plume from the California fire that’s getting all the press,” said Dave Luft, Idaho DEQ air quality manager for southwestern Idaho. As for air quality, “ We’re well into the yellow or moderate category.”

Luft said the smoke likely will clear up some this afternoon, and it could vary throughout the day with showers and other weather changes. “When it warms up, we’ll start to get better ventilation, and it will thin out a bit,” he said. A change in the weather is expected tomorrow that should alter the wind patterns and clear up Boise’s skies.

Wildfire smoke arrives in Boise, likely to stick around for ‘a couple of weeks’

The familiar scent of wildfire smoke began wafting into town yesterday, and today it’s noticeably smoky in Boise. Smoke from the Whiskey Complex of fires in the Garden Valley area, along with some from fires in Oregon, filtered into the Treasure Valley overnight, and higher-level air flows are bringing in smoke from fires in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Canada. “We seem to be getting a significant amount more smoke in the valley than we anticipated,” said Mike Toole, regional airshed coordinator for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

And here’s the bad news: Tomorrow likely will be worse, and it’ll stick around. “We’re definitely going to have these smoke impacts lingering for the foreseeable future,” Toole said. “It could be a couple of weeks. … Just with the sheer amount of fires and where they’re located, we could be seeing smoke impacts for quite a while.”

Idaho City and Garden Valley hit red alert levels for air quality due to wildfire smoke today; that’s defined as unhealthy for everyone. Boise’s air quality was registering in the good-to-moderate range at mid-day; Idaho City was in the red zone. See real-time air monitoring online here from the Idaho DEQ; and smoke forecasts here. Tomorrow is predicted to be in the moderate range in Boise; the forecast warns that high-level smoke likely will settle in the Treasure Valley this evening after the sun sets. “We’re going to kind of see the same thing for a while,” Toole said.

Now’s your chance to comment on air quality standards

The public is invited to comment on proposed changes to state air quality standards for specific pollutants so they align with federal standards. The Washington Department of Ecology is seeking comments about incorporating the updated standards in Washington’s federally required State Implementation Plan. The plan details how the state protects and maintains air quality.

Public comment period continues through Sept. 19, 2013.

In recent years, the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) have been updated to better protect people from air pollution. The health-based standards are required by the state and federal Clean Air Acts. They apply to lead, fine and coarse particles, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, and sulfur dioxide.

Smoke socking in mountain valleys, H&W advises limiting outdoor activity

Yep, it's looking awfully smoky out in Boise, and now comes this word from the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare: Air quality in some parts of the central Idaho mountains has reached the "unhealthy" or "unhealthy for sensitive groups" level, and they're alerting people to limit outdoor activity. "The Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is forecasting unhealthy levels for areas of Boise, Elmore, Blaine, Camas and Custer counties," H&W says in a news release. "Because of wildfire activity and weather patterns, air quality conditions are not expected to significantly improve through this week." Click below for the full H&W announcement, which also advises drinking plenty of water, avoiding heavy work or exercise outdoors when air quality hits unhealthy levels, and taking care for the very young or old and those with respiratory conditions.

Boise was only predicted to be moderate today, but Mary Anderson, smoke management program coordinator for the DEQ, said, "Based on visibility downtown, it's more likely into the unhealthy for sensitive groups or possibly in some areas unhealthy. The closer we get to kind of where the smoke is coming down from the mountains is where it's the unhealthy."

Anderson said the DEQ issued a Stage 1 air pollution forecast and caution today after monitors in Idaho City, Garden Valley, Ketchum, Lowman, Atlanta and Challis all went into the unhealthy or unhealthy for sensitive groups zone. "It's basically from the Elk Complex and Pony Complex fires," Anderson said. "They're heading north. … Basically all the mountain valleys are getting impacted. It's pretty widespread." Idaho's interagency smoke blog has been activated here; it has links and info on smoke impacts.

Statewide Stage 1 air quality alert issued…

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has issued a statewide Stage 1 air quality alert, banning open burning all through the state. It's in effect through the weekend; conditions will be re-evaluated Monday morning on a county-by-county basis. The ban includes campfires, recreational, warming, weed control, cooking, and residential fires. “Air quality is generally in the Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups to Unhealthy categories throughout the central and southern parts of the state,” said DEQ Smoke Management Program Coordinator Mary Anderson. "Air quality in the northern Idaho Panhandle is forecasted to be in the good to moderate range; however, stagnant conditions will likely cause smoke from open burning to remain at ground level." Click below for the full alert from DEQ.

Treasure Valley air quality deteriorates…

Yuck. The sunrise was bright orange again, and now the sky is brown. Wildfire smoke is settling densely over the Treasure Valley, pushing air pollution levels up. Today's air quality is predicted to be in the "upper moderate" range, a range that stretches from 50 to 100 AQI, up from yesterday's AQI of 64. Moderate, or yellow, air quality falls short of the next range, orange, or "unhealthy for sensitive groups." This morning's 9 a.m. readings included 113.6 at Boise Fire Station No. 5; 84 in Meridian; and 84 in Nampa. Dave Luft of the Idaho DEQ said, "We're hovering right between the yellow and the orange right now. … The prognosis going forward is that we may get a break come Saturday, but that's kind of iffy." Personally, I've had a bad scratchy throat since yesterday morning, and I'm not even in any sensitive groups. Time to pray for rain…

After 11-day break, smoke pushes valley air quality out of good range again

Well, the Treasure Valley's break from the wildfire smoke lasted exactly 11 days, and then yesterday, smoke came pouring back in, this time from the opposite direction, the northwest. Air quality broke out of the "good" category into the "moderate" range yesterday, and that's where it remains this morning. "There are a whole bunch of fires," said Mike Toole, regional airshed coordinator for the Idaho DEQ. "There are three wildfires up kind of by McCall. And then Washington over the weekend got a thunderstorm and there's a bunch of fires up in Washington now. So with the winds coming out of the northwest, it was blowing all that smoke toward us."

Things could improve a bit today. "We have some smoke in the valley now," Toole said. "'Based on what we're seeing … this afternoon after the morning inversion breaks, we'll hopefully get some more clearing." Winds have switched to a southeasterly direction, he noted.

"The forecast for tomorrow looks like we're still going to have the southeasterly wind component, so tomorrow it looks like it clears up fairly good. But Saturday switches back to northwesterly wind," Toole said. "That could push the smoke right back into us." He added, "We did have a nice couple-week break, but there's a lot of new fires going on."

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.

Wildfire smoke prompts Stage 1 air quality alert, all open burning banned in 10 southern Idaho counties

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality has issued a Stage 1 Air Quality Alert for 10 southern Idaho counties, including mandatory bans on all open burning. The counties affected are Ada, Boise, Canyon, Elmore, Gem, Owyhee, Payette, Washington, Lemhi and Custer. The DEQ has also issued a caution that unhealthy air quality will continue at least until mid-day tomorrow, and everyone should limit exertion outdoors. The pollution, in the form of PM 2.5 fine particulates, is from smoke from multiple wildfires in northern California, southern Oregon, northern Nevada and, closer to home, southwestern Idaho.

In the good news, the brush fire that kicked up this afternoon off Cartwright Road, the Ourada Fire, has been knocked down at 419 acres, the BLM reports, and crews are mopping up; no structures were damaged. When that fire started around 11:30 this morning, we went outside to take a look, but couldn't see it. The reason? It was already too smoky.

Air quality moves into unhealthy range, outdoor k.d. lang concert canceled

The Treasure Valley's air quality has gotten so bad - with an orange air quality alert issued by the state DEQ - that tonight's scheduled k.d. lang concert at the Eagle River Pavilion has been canceled. CTTouring announced the cancellation "due to the poor air quality in the Treasure Valley and the DEQ orange air quality alert suggesting that people stay inside;" click below for their full announcement. The DEQ has posted tips here for people to reduce their exposure to wildfire smoke and protect their health. Yesterday's air quality index of 104 and today's predicted level of 110 both fall into the orange, or unhealthy, range. Children and people with asthma are considered to be most at risk; all outdoor burning is banned in Ada and Canyon counties.

No consensus on Idaho field-burning changes

Possible changes to Idaho's field-burning regulations still are up in the air after an advisory panel of farmers, health advocates and regulators agreed today that some weekend burning could be considered, but couldn't reach a consensus on whether to allow more burning when ozone pollution levels are high. Patti Gora-McRavin of Safe Air For Everyone said, “It's a life and death issue for us. It is the line in the sand.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Based on the advisory group's discussions, both today and in an all-day meeting last month, Idaho DEQ Air Quality Division Administrator Martin Bauer will make a recommendation to DEQ Director Curt Fransen, who will decide in late May whether to launch a negotiated rule-making process to make changes in Idaho's field-burning rules.

Guest Post: House Plants You Can Use As Air Purifiers

A lot of people tend to forget about the many benefits that can be given by a normal house plant. They have become more of an aesthetic than anything, and as a society we forget about the many functions that a plant has and how it can act as a makeshift air purifier and renew the stale air that we breathe in our homes.

Houseplants are truly beneficial and can filter out many of the toxins and pollutants that manage to find their way into our homes air, and it also replaces them with pure air and oxygen. It is a cheap investment that can help us live healthier and freshen the air that we breathe in our homes.

Trace levels of I-131 detected in Idaho air, drinking water, rainwater and milk

Trace levels of radioactive iodine-131 have now been detected in air, drinking water, rainwater and milk in Idaho, the state DEQ, Department of Agriculture and Department of Health & Welfare report in a joint news release, but "the levels detected are far below levels of public health concern." The I-131, from the nuclear disaster in Japan, first was detected on March 21 in an air sample in Boise. Mark Dietrich, the Idaho DEQ's emergency response program coordinator, said, "At no point have detected levels come close to levels of concern." You can read more here.