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Air quality in Durango measures at ‘hazardous’ levels

Time outside should be limited, even when skies aren’t hazy
The 416 Fire fills the air with smoke north of the Glacier Club on Sunday.

At certain times of day, air quality in Durango has been measured at the “hazardous” level, the poorest level on the air-quality index.

An air-quality advisory has been issued every day since the 416 Fire started June 1. Additional advisories are expected in the coming days, and further advisories are likely in the future, said Scott Landes with Colorado’s Air Pollution Control Division.

San Juan Basin Public Health is measuring air quality in Bodo Industrial Park and near Florida Road and East Animas Road (County Road 250). The air monitors intake air and then screen the sample for fine particulates that are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter.

Air pollutants are measured in units of micrograms per cubic meter. Then, based on the measurement, the air is given a score from 0-500.

Residents can view real-time data from both sites by visiting https://bit.ly/2JQO2Yv.

The data paint a grim picture of what residents are breathing.

“The air quality has been very unhealthy, there’s no getting around it,” Landes said.

Southwest Colorado is under an air-quality advisory until 9 a.m. Tuesday. In addition to air samples, the state health department monitors the air by looking at webcams and satellite images.

Air-quality advisories are issued based on fine particulate matter, Landes said.

Fine particles from wildfires, which are 30 times smaller than the width of a hair, are made up of multitudes of gases and other chemicals that are harmful to human health.

Studies have linked long-term exposure to these particles to premature death for people with lung or heart disease as well as increased lung and heart problems in healthy people, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The state health department advises people to avoid exercising outside, even when the smoke has cleared in the afternoon.

“The air that you breathe in, with the fine particulates, that’s going to linger in your system,” Landes said.

Fine particulates can sneak into buildings through cracks in windows and doors.

People should make sure air-conditioning units are not bringing in air from outside but rather re-filtering the inside air.

People should stay inside during periods of heavy smoke and avoid outside exertion. If people experience shortness of breath or chest pains, they should go to the doctor immediately.

If visibility is less than 5 miles, the air is considered unhealthy.

The health department recommends that people get advice from their primary doctor about whether they should wear a mask in smoky conditions, because the doctor will know the patient’s health best.

Certain respirator masks can filter out fine particles but not hazardous gases.

Because respirator masks can masks can make it harder to breath, the health department suggests they be used mostly by people who have serious health conditions, are elderly or need to do strenuous activity outdoors.

Consider these tips when buying a mask:

Choose an N95 or N100 mask that has two straps that go around your head. Don’t choose a one-strap paper dusk mask or a surgical mask that hooks around your ears, because these don’t protect against the fine particles in smoke.Choose a size that fits over your nose and under your chin. It should seal tightly to your face. These masks don’t come in sizes that fit young children.If your child is experiencing respiratory symptoms contact your pediatrician or go to the nearest emergency room.Don’t use bandanas or towels (wet or dry) or tissue held over the mouth and nose. These may relieve dryness, but they won’t protect your lungs from wildfire smoke.The health department urges people who are chronically sick with lung or heart disease to check with their doctor first, because using respirator masks can make it harder to breath and, possibly, worsen medical conditions.

Most respirator masks can be purchased at hardware and home repair stories and pharmacies.

rsimonovich@durangoherald.com

Tips to protect yourself

Close windows and doors and stay inside. However, do not close up your home tightly if it makes it dangerously warm inside.

Only if they are filtered, run the air conditioning, your evaporative cooler, or the fan feature on your home heating system (with the heat turned off). Keep the outdoor air intake closed and be sure the filter is clean. Filtered air typically has less smoke than the air outdoors. Running these appliances if they are not filtered can make indoor smoke worse.

Use HEPA room air filtration units if you have them.

Avoid smoking and/or secondhand smoke, vacuuming, candles, and other sources of additional air pollution.

Do not use paper dust masks; these do not filter out the particles and gases in smoke.

As temperatures cool in the evening inversion conditions worsen and smoke in low lying areas may become thicker, especially if the outdoor air is still. It tends to be worst near dawn.

Close bedroom windows at night.

To prepare for nighttime smoke, consider airing out your home during the early or middle of the afternoon when smoke tends to be more diluted. Use your best judgment. If smoke is thick during the day, follow the tips above.

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