Department of Ecology News Release - July 30, 2009

09-187

Take precautions to keep air pollution in check

OLYMPIA – Sweltering heat and stagnant air are combining to worsen air quality throughout Washington.

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) and local clean air agencies monitor air pollution. This week, monitors show higher than normal fine particle levels called PM2.5 and high smog levels in the Puget Sound region. One likely explanation is the formation of “secondary PM2.5.” These fine particles form when gases from vehicle emissions and industrial sources – such as sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds – react together in hot, stagnant, humid air.

Stagnant air traps pollution, which can produce unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone and smog on hot days. These can cause breathing difficulties or aggravate existing lung conditions, such as asthma.

Fine particles are easily inhaled into lungs. Once there, they can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems, including premature death. People with asthma and respiratory illnesses, children and the elderly are particularly at risk.

“We expect air pollution levels to remain high until the weather cools down and atmospheric mixing increases,” said Stuart Clark, who manages Ecology’s Air Quality Program.

The Washington State Department of Health recommends that people who are sensitive to air pollution should spend less time outdoors. Air pollution can trigger asthma attacks, cause difficulty breathing, and make lung and heart problems worse.

Even as temperatures drop below triple digits in some communities, air pollution levels may remain elevated. Weather forecasts call for high temperatures to continue at least in the 80s and 90s for several days.

What you can do to reduce air pollution in your community

For more information

WAQA: The Washington Air Quality Advisory (WAQA) is the Washington Department of Ecology’s tool for informing people about the health effects of air pollution. It includes information about ground-level ozone, fine particle pollution and carbon monoxide. It’s very similar to the Environmental Protection Agency’s national information tool, the Air Quality Index (AQI). Both use color-coded categories to show when air quality is good, moderate or unhealthy. The difference is that WAQA shows the health effects of fine particles at lower levels than the AQI does. In other words, WAQA shows that air quality is unhealthy earlier – when fewer fine particles are in the air. Check https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/enviwa/Default.htm .

Ecology Central Regional Office: For Chelan, Douglas, Kittitas, Klickitat, and Okanogan counties. Call 509-575-2490.

Ecology Eastern Regional Office: For Adams, Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Franklin, Garfield, Grant, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman counties. Call 509-329-3400.

Ecology Northwest Regional Office: For San Juan County. Call 425-649-7000.

Benton Clean Air Agency: For Benton County. Call 509-783-1304 or see www.bcaa.net .

Northwest Clean Air Agency: For Island, Whatcom and Skagit counties. Call 360-428-1617 (Skagit) or 800-622-4627 (Island and Whatcom) or see www.nwcleanair.org .

Olympic Region Clean Air Agency: For Clallam, Grays Harbor, Jefferson, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston counties. Call 360-586-1044 or 800-422-5623 or see www.orcaa.org .

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency: For King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties. Call the air quality hotline at 800-595-4341 or see www.pscleanair.org .

Southwest Clean Air Agency: For Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Skamania, and Wahkiakum counties. Call 360-574-3058 or 800-633-0709 (outside Clark County) or see www.swcleanair.org .

Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency: For Spokane County. Call 509-477-4727 or see www.spokanecleanair.org .

Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency: For Yakima County. Call 509-834-2050 or see www.yakimacleanair.org .

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Media Contact: Seth Preston, Ecology communications manager, 360-407-6848; 360-584-5744 cell; spre461@ecy.wa.govov