Air quality was the worst in at least a year Sunday, as smoke from wildfires blanketed the Tri-Cities.
The smoke was so thick that air quality was rated as “hazardous” by the Washington state Department of Ecology on Sunday afternoon., after being rated as “very unhealthy” in the morning.
“These are among the worst readings we have ever had in the Tri-Cities based on a cursory review of historical data,” said Robin Priddy, director of the Benton Clean Air Agency.
People with lung and heart disease or who have survived a stroke should ask their doctor if they need to leave the area, said the Department of Ecology. Everyone should stay indoors.
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“I went outside to take the trash out. The smoke is so bad, I looked around to make sure the neighbor’s house wasn’t on fire,” one reader posted to the Tri-City Herald’s Facebook page.
Another posted that visibility was so poor that drivers on the Interstate 182 bridge between Pasco and Richland could not see the water of the Columbia River.
Air quality could remain in the at least the “unhealthy” range or worse until at least Tuesday evening, according to the Benton Clean Air Agency.
The National Weather Service predicts widespread haze to stick around longer — at least through Wednesday.
Smoke was being pushed south toward the Tri-Cities from fires burning in Washington state and Canada on Sunday.
“The ongoing wildfire activity affecting portions of the western United States and western Canada continues to produce enormous amounts of smoke that covers most of Canada and the northern portion of the United States,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said, as quoted on the Washington Smoke Information blog.
A high pressure system is keeping the smoke trapped in low-lying areas, including the Tri-Cities, according to the weather service.
Visibility has dropped because of the smoke in the air, and drivers are urged by the Washington State Patrol to keep their car lights on in the daytime.
Everyone should avoid all strenuous activity and close windows and doors, if possible, the Department of Ecology said.
Air conditioners should be set to “recirculate” to prevent pulling more smoky air indoors.
People without air conditioners who need relief from the heat should head to public places with air conditioning, including libraries and community centers.
The high Sunday in the Tri-Cities was expected to hit 94, with another day about as hot on Monday, according to the weather service forecast.
Respiratory masks sold at hardware and home repair stores may help protect from air pollution, according to the Washington state Department of Health.
But they need to be rated N95 or N100 to be effective against smoke.
Anyone with lung or heart disease or other chronic illnesses should ask their doctor before using a mask because it can make breathing more difficult, according to the Department of Health.
They are not approved for infants and small children and don’t work on men with beards because they do not seal well enough to offer protection.
Poor air quality is particularly hard on people with chronic illnesses, including diabetes and stroke survivors, plus infants, children, pregnant women and older people.
Everyone can expect to have symptoms such as watery or dry eyes and throat and sinus irritation.
People with serious symptoms, such as chest pain or an irregular heart beat should seek immediate medical attention.