Yakima County facing ‘unprecedented’ air pollutants from wildfire smoke, officials say

Yakima Air Quality 9-14-20

YAKIMA COUNTY, Wash. — Yakima County is facing unprecedented levels of air pollution from wildfire smoke, which is keeping the area’s air quality at hazardous levels.

“We’ve never seen air pollution like this due to fires,” said Keith Hurley, Executive Director of the Yakima Regional Clean Air Agency.

Hurley said vast majority of the smoke is coming from fires burning in Oregon and California. He said coupled with stagnant air, the large depositions of smoke have created the “perfect storm” for air pollutants.

Without little to no wind forecast this week, Hurley said conditions likely won’t improve until Thursday or Friday.

Current air quality levels can be found here

Health officials said while the poor air quality itself can cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, shortness of breath, chest tightness, asthma attacks and worsening existing chronic conditions, it can also make people more susceptible to COVID-19.

“Breathing in wildfire smoke is going to reduce your body’s natural defenses against really any type of virus or infection, including COVID-19,” Yakima Health District spokesperson Lilian Bravo said.

Bravo said the health impacts of wildfire smoke overlap with COVID-19 because both impact respiratory and immune systems.

Exposure to wildfire smoke can irritate lungs and cause inflammation, which negatively affects the immune system — making it harder for the body to fight off lung infections. 

Washington State Department of Health recommendations for wildfire smoke and COVID-19 during the 2020 wildfire season can be found here.

Wildfire smoke can also cause issues for current COVID-19 patients and those who have recovered from the virus.

“Recent studies indicate that poor air quality can make symptoms and outcomes in people with COVID-19 more severe,” according to the state Department of Health. “Persons with, or recovering from, COVID-19 may be more at risk for negative health effects from wildfire smoke exposure because of compromised lung and heart function.”

Additionally, state health officials warn that experiencing both the COVID-19 pandemic and bad wildfire smoke may be especially hard on mental health.

Washington State Department of Health information on wildfire smoke and air quality can be found here.

Health officials recommend staying inside unless absolutely necessary, using air filters and reducing air pollutants in the home and taking other protection measures against wildfire smoke.