Wildfires are burning in Canada. Why do I care? Due to an unfavorable wind pattern, their smoke has drifted over Seattle. Enough smoke to cause the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (here’s a link to their website) to recommend that everyone stay indoors. Indoors! In the summer! News and weather reports feature air quality forecasts, school athletic practices have been cancelled, and air traffic at Seatac airport has been delayed. You’d think it was a winter storm.
I’ve noticed a diminished view of Elliott Bay. Here are two pictures taken from my balcony on Sunday, August 19, 2018. The first was taken at 8:21 am in the morning and the second at 4:56 pm in the evening. Quite a dramatic difference!
I’ve also experienced physical symptoms when I head outdoors-raspy throat, watery eyes, and headache. Breathing is difficult, like trying to inhale at a high altitude. Here’s what the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency website says about the dangers of wildfire smoke.
When a wildfire smoke event is taking place, there could be many different particles in the air. Larger PM like ash (PM with a diameter greater than 10µm) can be seen with the naked eye and may be concerning, but our bodies have natural defenses to keep these larger particles from entering our lungs, though they can be an irritant to the eyes, nose, and throat.
Other particles from wood, or wildfire smoke, can be much smaller (PM with a diameter of 2.5µm or less, than 2.5µm, about 3% the diameter of a human hair) and are more dangerous to our health. These smaller particles cannot be seen with the naked eye and can be inhaled into the deepest part of the lungs. There these particles may cause greater health concerns, like breathing and heart problems.
I realize air quality concerns aren’t the same as the losses experienced by the victims of recent wildfires. If you’ve been affected by a wildfire this season, my thoughts and prayers are with you. All the same, I’ll be glad when the ocean breeze returns and sweeps the smoke out of my area.