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NW wildfire season highlights importance of Air Quality Awareness Week

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Agencies are raising awareness about air quality across the country this week.

Led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Air Quality Awareness Week is highlighting the effects of poor air, with a special focus on wildfires and smoke today.

Julie Fox, environmental epidemiologist for the Washington Department of Health, said unfortunately, the people who are sensitive to wildfire smoke is long, starting with people with preexisting conditions like asthma and cardiovascular diseases.

“It also includes children, people over 65 years of age, pregnant people, outdoor workers, people of color, tribal and Indigenous people, people with low incomes and others who are all at increased risk for all different reasons that we’re concerned about,” Fox outlined. “Those are really the groups where we want to focus on taking steps to protect health.”

Fox noted people who are not as sensitive to smoke might see milder symptoms, such as sore throat, headache, fatigue and itchy eyes. Wildfire season typically takes place between midsummer and early fall in the Northwest.

Fox stressed when smoke is bad, people should be ready to adjust their days.

“When we look at the air quality index that indicates the hazard level of the air quality, we start by recommending just avoiding outdoor exercise,” Fox explained. “Then as it increases, we recommend going indoors and also really taking steps to ensure that the indoor air is clean.”

Fox added right now is a good time for people to purchase items to ensure they have clean indoor air because it can be difficult to do so when the outdoor air gets smoky.

On Tuesday, the focus of air quality awareness week is on asthma. May 7, is World Asthma Day.

Featured photo: Smoke from across the region can affect air quality in cities like Seattle. (Tabor Chichakly/Adobe Stock)

Eric Tegethoff

Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.

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