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Winter weather affects air quality and health

From staff reports:

As winter weather becomes more commonplace, air quality becomes a concern. According to the Washington State Department of Health, air stagnation is an issue, especially from November to March.

With air stagnation, people with respiratory conditions such as asthma can be easily affected by outdoor burning, wood stoves and fireplaces. The particulates these activities put into the air "get trapped near the ground, where it collects. These pollutants can be harmful for people with heart disease, diabetes, asthma and lung diseases." The DOH notes that children and the elderly can be particularly susceptible to air stagnation and the accumulation of pollution from burning and other activities.

"People with asthma and other breathing problems need to pay special attention to air quality, especially this time of year," said state health officer Dr. Maxine Hayes. "Often people with conditions get sick sooner than healthy people when air quality is poor."

In recent weeks, burn bans were instituted in several local counties. According to the DOH, smoke contains fine particles and toxic gasses that can be breathed deep into the lungs. Both Pierce and Snohomish counties had been under a Level 2 burn ban recently, but that ban was lifted on Dec. 7 for both. For updated information on burn bans, visit www.waburnbans.net.

The DOH warns that breathing polluted air can cause short and long-term health problems. People with heart and lung diseases are more likely to develop serious health problems. Sometimes, older adults have heart or lung diseases they're not aware of, and it puts them at risk. Kids spend more time outside, where they're exposed to air pollution for longer periods. Children's lungs are more easily damaged because they're still developing.

During winter months, DOH recommends that outdoor activity be scaled back on days when a known burn ban is in effect. They suggest that instead of a run, go for a walk when the air is stagnant and a burn ban is in effect. The DOH also suggests staying away from busy roads or neighborhoods where there is a lot of woodsmoke.

Residents can check air quality at www.airwatchnw.org.

 

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