Air quality seems to be the first casualty from this week’s fog and stagnant air conditions.
Still, stagnant air held down by a high-pressure system means any smoke we put into the air around us, stays in the air around us. The result is rapidly rising levels of air pollution.
Our region experienced increasingly high levels of air pollution in recent days as a result of the outdoor burning and home-heating with woodstoves and fireplaces. The cold nights and still, foggy mornings tend to prompt more use of wood stoves and fireplaces. But those conditions also indicate the presence of an inversion, which traps the smoke close to the ground around us. In the interest of public health and safety, all residents are asked to refrain from burning unless absolutely necessary.
Burning wood creates smoke composed of fine and very fine particulate matter (PM2.5). These tiny particles are too small to be filtered by the nose and the body’s other natural defense mechanisms, so they may end up being inhaled deep into the lungs. That means that exposure to wood smoke may, at the very least, cause breathing problems and can increase – sometimes substantially increase – the severity of existing lung disease, such as asthma. Smoke also has been shown to aggravate heart and vascular disease.
In addition to minimizing the use of wood stoves and fireplaces, ORCAA asks homeowners to use alternative means of disposal to clean up their yards. Chipping and composting are the best option, though other alternatives to burning are also available. You can find more details on the options HERE or by calling your local waste disposal company.
If residents do need to burn, ORCAA encourages them to do so only at mid-day during the period of greatest air ventilation. During early morning and late evening hours the inversion is strongest, so at those times, any smoke remains trapped at ground level, creating significant air pollution issues.
To learn about the health effects of air pollution, check out the American Lung Association of Washington’s Web site at www.alaw.org.