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Breathing Smoke

Smoke seemed to fill the air over the course of Saturday, with the mountains becoming increasingly difficult to see.

According to the CDC, breathing in smoke may have several immediate effects:

  • trouble breathing
  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • headaches
  • scratchy throat
  • stinging eyes

These, among other unpleasant side-effects are caused primarily by the very small particles in smoke. While wildfire smoke can contain carbon monoxide (which also causes headaches), carbon monoxide seldom travels far from the initial fire. Ozone is also a concern, because it can form as the smoke plume moves away from the fire.

According to the EPA, the main components of wildfire smoke are: particulate matter (small, large), carbon dioxide, and ozone. Other chemicals are present, but in far smaller amounts. The major component that’s tracked is the very small particulate matter (small in this case means less 2.5 microns in diameter, which is substantially smaller than the diameter of a hair)

A clear day vs a photo taken around noon on Saturday

As our local air quality increasingly worsens the recommendations to stay indoors, avoid strenuous outdoor exertion, etc. become more broadly applicable, no longer applying only to sensitive groups.

The EPA, in addition to defining sensitive groups and noting that there’s been fairly little research done on the long term effects of smoke inhalation, offers some further information about staying indoors.

  • Tightly Closed Air conditioned homes where the air condition recirculates indoor air (instead of drawing in outside air) will keep air pollution outside more effectively
  • Open homes only in periods when the air is relatively clean
  • If cleaning use damp mopping or dusting to avoid putting particles back into the air
  • Minimize driving and trips outdoors
  • Reduce outdoor physical activity
  • Only use an air cleaner (air filter to the rest of us) that doesn’t produce ozone
  • Humidifiers may reduce eye/airway irritation in dry climates

With the skies remaining a bright white/gray, it remained a beautiful day to spend inside. Updates on the wildfire smoke (and a brief forecast) can be viewed on Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ)’s website.

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