BONNERS FERRY — Smoke has been filling the air of Boundary County, obscuring the beautiful vistas that the residents have become accustomed to, and washing all color from the sky. Mountains disappeared into the haze, the sun cast a strange glow, and the moon resembled a farm fresh egg yolk at night.
According to the Air Quality Index (AQI) on August 4, the values registered 165 by the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and 171 by Mt. Hall, the highest that it has been this year, putting the area in the ‘Unhealthy’ category for that day.
The AQI is a scale of 0-500, with the higher value meaning greater level of air pollution, and a greater health concern. The Environmental Protection Agency set an AQI rating of 100 as the national air quality standard for the pollutant, to protect public health. Anything higher that 100 is considered unhealthy. From 101-150, the rating is ‘Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups’.
The next level is ‘unhealthy’, where everyone may begin to experience some adverse health effects, and members of the sensitive groups, including people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children, may experience more serious effects. To be on the safe side, those in the sensitive groups should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion and spend time indoors, with windows shut and air conditioners on, if possible. When driving a vehicle, it is best to keep windows shut and set the air to recycle.
Prolonged exertion is defined as any outdoor activity, performed intermittently for several hours requiring breathing slightly harder than normal. An example of this is working in the yard for part of a day.
Heavy exertion refers to intense outdoor activities that causes hard breathing. When the air quality is unhealthy, reducing heavy exertion, such as walking instead of jogging, is advisable. If experiencing any unusual coughing, chest discomfort, wheezing, breathing difficulty, or unusual fatigue, it is best to reduce activity level.
According to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, “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. Smoke can cause coughing, scratchy throat, irritated sinuses, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches, stinging eyes, and runny nose.”
“Contrary to popular belief, common dust masks will not protect you from wildfire smoke,” states the Lung Institute on their website, “nor will bandanas (wet or dry) surgical masks or tissues. This is because the particles found in wildfire smoke are much too small for a common mask to filter out.”
According to Idaho DEQ Regional Air Quality Manager Shawn Sweetapple, on August 7, the National Weather Service’s forecasts that, “The conditions that are bringing smoke into the region from the British Columbia fires will continue to at least Saturday. They are predicting that a low pressure system that is currently in the gulf of Alaska will push the high pressure system out and bring back our normal southwesterly winds. Those southwest winds should relieve our smoky conditions.”