WENATCHEE — While smoke in the Wenatchee Valley continues to dissipate, residents are cautioned to keep an eye on air quality warnings and remain safe.
People should feel free to engage in outdoor activities if the smoke clears entirely, said Barry Kling, Chelan-Douglas Health District administrator.
But sensitive groups — anyone over 65 years old, small children, those with asthma, emphysema, chronic inflammation of the lungs or cardiovascular problems — should still be cautious when air quality is listed as moderate or worse. The same also applies to pets.
Air quality particulates, 2.5 nanometers in size or smaller, are measured by micrograms per cubic meter in the air, Kling said. Particles of that size can go deep into people’s lung and affect breathing.
How that translates into the air quality warnings the state uses, though, can be confusing, he said. The number recorded by the county is converted into a different number by the state and used on scale from 1 to 500. The federal government also has its own scale and a different conversion rate.
“There is like three sets of numbers going around about the same thing,” Kling said. “Our best advice is to look at the color-coded charts.”
The up-to-date air quality information can be accessed through the state Department of Ecology’s Washington Air Monitoring Network website, https://wwrld.us/2OYj8wg.
But while the smoke lingers, the Chelan-Douglas Health District wants to emphasize that people should minimize exposure to outdoor air, Kling said. The health district has a few suggestions to accomplish that goal.
People with air conditioners should set their machines to recirculate inside air, he said. Those with central air should purchase the best filters possible. High efficiency particulate air filters (HEPA) are excellent, but systems can have difficulty pulling air through them.
“The very best thing is to go to an area where there isn’t smoke,” he said. “Go to an industrial mall or a movie theater. The air quality is best in places like that.”
People can also use N95 or N100 masks to minimize their smoke exposure when outside, Kling said, instead of surgical or gauze masks that won’t provide sufficient protection.
N95 and N100 masks, though, are for one-day use only, he said. Once they start to become discolored people should throw them out.
Residents should research how to put the masks on correctly, he said. If parts of the face are exposed, the masks will not work properly. The masks will also not work for people with beards, and for those with asthma, using a mask may not be a good idea as it restricts breathing.
"If you have asthma and put one of those on, now you have to breathe through a piece of paper and it makes breathing that much harder," Kling said.
The best advice available for pets in the smoke is to bring them inside when possible, especially animals with respiratory problem, said Dawn Davies, Wenatchee Valley Humane Society executive director.
For large livestock, that may be impossible, Davies said.
“It concerns me. I have four horses and I can’t bring them inside,” she said. “(But) if you have the ability to bring them inside, do it.”
The Humane Society has worked hard to help during the wildfires, Davies said. The organization has taken in 24 cats, 22, dogs and two horses from families under Level 3 — go now — evacuation warnings. All of those animals have since been returned to their families.