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Western Wildfires Raise Air Pollution Concerns

A few tips on safeguarding your health

Wildfire Protection

David McNew/Getty Images

Flames rise behind a firefighter at the La Tuna Fire near Burbank, Calif.

The summer’s busy wildfire season has triggered air quality warnings all across the West — and with those warnings come concerns about respiratory health.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow website shows large pockets of reduced air quality through California, the Pacific Northwest, Idaho, Montana and the Dakotas. Some spots near the Canadian border draw “unhealthy" ratings, meaning even people who are not sensitive to air quality could experience health effects.

Fine particulate matter that can’t be seen is especially concerning, Gopal Allada, a pulmonologist and critical care specialist at Oregon Health and Science University, told NPR. "When you inhale these really small particles, smaller than a few microns, they can land in your lungs and cause respiratory symptoms,” Allada said.

Some tips from the American Lung Association on combating unhealthy air:

  • Avoid exercising outdoors when pollution levels are high.
  • Check air pollution forecasts in your area. The association offers a smartphone app for Android and iPhone that can assist with this. 
  • Use electric or hand-powered lawn care equipment.
  • Don’t burn wood or trash.

Allada told NPR the best way to cut risk is to simply stay inside, with windows and doors closed if possible. "And use the recirculate button in your car or on your air conditioner, so you are not bringing in new particulate matter." Allada said.

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