Health experts urge safety in smoky conditions

By Cameron Rasmusson
Reader Staff

With local air quality sitting at very unhealthy levels, local health organizations are urging everyone to moderate their outdoor exposure.

Registering at a quality rating of 230 as of Wednesday afternoon, local air is improved from its Labor Day high of 418, at the time giving Sandpoint the worst air quality in the nation. The convergence of wildfire smoke in Montana, Washington and Canada contributed toward Sandpoint’s pollution-choked air Monday afternoon.

The view from reader Kathy Chambers’ home as the smoke rolled in Monday morning. Photo by Kathy Chambers/Facebook.

Despite the improvements, local air is still measured as very unhealthy by the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, which means that everyone regardless of health may suffer ailments from prolonged exposure. Sensitive groups, including children, elderly adults and individuals with lung disease, heart disease or asthma are even more at risk.

“Sometimes you look outside, and it looks a little smoky, but even healthy adults can be affected,” said Panhandle Health District Melanie Collett.

Given the active wildfire smoke advisory from Idaho DEQ, Panhandle Health District recommends that everyone take several precautions while the air quality is poor. These include avoiding heavy work or exercise outdoors, setting air conditioning units and car vent systems to re-circulate, using portable air purifiers at home, limiting exposure to outdoor air, keeping up to date on air quality and seeking medical treatment for uncontrolled coughing, wheezing, choking or other breathing difficulties. Everyone should also remember to drink plenty of water, as staying hydrated helps dilute phlegm in the respiratory tract and makes coughing out smoke particles easier.

Lake Pend Oreille School District has done its part to keep kids safe. Local students stayed indoors during their first days of school, and according to Sandpoint High School Athletics Director Kris Knowles, the school moved all athletic practices indoors. It’s a matter of policy that all sports occur indoors whenever the air quality rating is 151 or above, Knowles said.

Thanks to that type of careful behavior, local residents have been staying relatively healthy despite the smoke, according to Bonner General Health Chief Nurse Officer Misty Robertson.

“We have seen a slight increase in respiratory complaints in our Emergency Department that are potentially aggravated by the smoke in the air, mostly from the more vulnerable population such as the elderly and those with chronic respiratory illnesses,” Robertson said. “We haven’t seen a huge increase because people are following precautions by not exerting themselves and staying indoors. It is still early, and we recommend that people continue to follow the air quality precaution recommendations from the (Center for Disease Control) and the Air Quality Index.”

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