In the winter we have snow days, when people are advised to stay home for their safety because of extreme weather conditions.
In the summer we’re starting to learn about smoke days, when fires cause so much air pollution that it is unhealthy to spend time outdoors.
For the general population, these are days are when the Air Quality Index level reaches the level of Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy or Hazardous.
When the index reaches Very Unhealthy, as it did Monday, Aug. 20, “pretty much everybody is going to be affected,” said Ed Marugg, environmental health director for Public Health-Idaho North Central District in Lewiston. People with asthma, COPD or other lung conditions experience the effects of poor air quality much sooner than the general population.
Marugg begins his day with an easy walk of a couple miles. By the end of his walk on Monday he was wheezing. It was one way he could tell the air quality had declined.
“Exerting yourself physically outside, that’s when you’re going to notice a difference,” he said.
When the air quality gets worse it’s because there is a higher concentration of particulates in the air. The more particulates, the harder your body works to protect you. If you are working hard outside, breathing harder and deeper, you’re exposing yourself to greater amounts of contamination.
DO NOT rely on bandanas, dust masks or surgical masks. They do nothing. Particulates from smoke are extremely small and can easily pass through these simple barriers, Marugg said. Some cities issue N95 masks, but Marugg said these masks are ineffective unless properly fit-tested by a professional. If a person has a beard or facial hair, the N95 mask will not properly seal. Even if properly fitted, the N95 mask must be changed after a couple days.
DO stay indoors. Use air conditioning if it’s hot and you have it; change the filter often. Humidifiers don’t help much, Marugg said. Ionic air purifiers may help, but the literature he’s read says they have little effect. HEPA filters can help, but filters must be changed regularly and they are only effective in a room setting.