Community

Breathing Smoke- Once Again

Well, the smoke has hit us a bit earlier this year, and it isn’t quite as hazy as it was last year when I wrote about breathing smoke. Smoke inhalation isn’t something to take lightly- it comes with a number of unpleasant symptoms.

Here’s Last Year:
Tuesday, September 15th of 2020


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.

Community

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.

Community

EDL Emulsion Spill in Dickey Lake

The community grapevine has been in full swing about the chemical spill in Dickey Lake on Tuesday, August 25th. With chemical spills, the major questions are “What was it?” and “How much?”

The rule of thumb in toxicology is “The dose makes the poison”. Even everyday common substances can be deadly, given a sufficiently high dose. So, the answer to our first question: “What is it?” will determine the meaning of the second question: “How much?”

I contacted Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and asked that first question. I received a very prompt response: EDL Emulsion, a dust suppressant.

From there, the next visit is to the safety sheet, which is available online and fairly easy to find. This sheet offers details about what exactly EDL Emulsion is – a mixture of asphalt fume, water, fuel oil number 2 and two emulsifiers. The majority of EDL Emulsion is the asphalt fume. It has a black color and often a smell of rotten eggs associated with the presence of hydrogen sulfide.

The safety sheet includes direct exposure information, and EDL Emulsion is definitely not something one wants to have direct, up close personal contact with. It’s an eye and skin irritant that comes with a host of nasty side-effects when inhaled. Details on this can be found in Section 11: Toxicological Information – It may help to know that LD50 refers to the dose at which half of the animals it was tested on died.

But, the dose makes the poison and the more pressing question, since it has been dispersed through a large body of water, is about the ecotoxicology. How dangerous is it for the environment? The safety sheet does describe it as a marine pollutant, but without any further details.

Since toxicology information is available for two of the components of EDL Emulsion: asphalt fume and fuel oil number 2, those are the next to examine. The safety data sheet for Fuel Oil Number 2 (also Number 2 Fuel Oil) can be found here. Section 12 Ecological Information outlines the potential toxicology to aquatic life for the various chemicals that make up Fuel Oil Number 2.

The asphalt fume is specifically a Bitumen fume; Bitumens are petrolium products, often called asphalt cement. While most of my initial findings were about occupational exposure of the many people who work with Bitumens, I did manage to find a Canadian study that addressed the impacts of mixtures including Bitumens on fish (deadly under some circumstances).

The rule in toxicology is that the dose makes the poison. We don’t know how much of Fuel Oil Number 2 (5-20% of EDL Emulsion) or asphalt fume (30-70%) entered Dickey Lake as part of the EDL Emulsion that was released. What we do know is that some of the materials included in EDL Emulsion are marine pollutants, with potential to harm aquatic life.

Whether the dose will be high enough to be harmful is a question that must consider the amount that entered the water, the dispersal rate, the solubility, currents, etc. It’s a complex problem and we’re looking forward to seeing what DEQ concludes.

Contact information for MT DEQ can be found here. If you need to report a chemical spill or make a complaint, the form is available on DEQ’s website.