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Stay Inside Or Go Outside Into The Smoke? There Are Several Factors To Consider

Doug Nadvornick/SPR

The air over much of the Inland Northwest is foul and unhealthy today [Friday]. Weather forecasters expect some improvement by Sunday or Monday. But, between the heat and the smoke, there’s a question of whether people should spend time outside this weekend.Retired pulmonologist Dr. Sam Joseph, a faculty member at the WSU College of Medicine, says the question of staying inside or going outside should be dependent on several data points.

There are the environmental factors. He suggests you keep an eye this weekend on your local air quality index, AQI, and the PM-2.5 level. That’s the measure of the small particles in the air that are generated by burning.

“If the PM 2.5 is greater than 50, you should avoid going out. If the AQI is in the dangerous level, which is, I believe, 150 and above, you should limit your outdoor activity," he said.

Then there are the individual health factors.

“If you have underlying disease or health issues, it would be a different risk than somebody who doesn’t have them. It also relates to the type of activity and the amount of effort and the duration of your effort. All those factors come into play when you make a recommendation as to whether you should avoid going outside or not," Joseph said.

He says some people, if they go out, should don what he calls “a proper mask”, an N-95.

“The surgical masks and bandannas really don’t help with the PM 2.5s. You have to have a tight fit. Air will find the path of least resistance and the PM 2.5s will come in with that air," he said.

Joseph says it’s clear that wildfire smoke, in the short term anyway, is more dangerous to people with respiratory issues, though the long term effects are less clear. He says research in that area is underway, but isn’t yet conclusive.


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