Recently, the southeast has been the center of our nation’s attention. That’s where Hurricane Irma unleashed her incredible wrath. Destroying lives and property, she left many landscapes tattered and scarred.
And that’s why you may not have heard much about the horrific scene playing out in the Northwest. Or how it might be affecting you without you even knowing it.
More than 30 forest and brush fires have been raging across many Northwest states the past few weeks.
The fires have destroyed over 1 million acres of land, including many people’s homes. They’ve forced thousands of people to evacuate and many highways to shut down.
Western States in Flames
Currently, the fires are affecting many states out west. These include California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Colorado and Arizona.
Among the many fires roaring out of control have been…
- The Eagle Creek wildfire. It’s burning in the Columbia River Gorge between Oregon and Washington. Crews closed much of Interstate 84 in efforts to better battle the blaze
- The La Tuna Canyon fire. This fire blazed in the Verdugo Mountains above Burbank, California and burned almost 7,200 acres. It was the largest fire ever recorded in Los Angeles
- The Highline fire in Idaho’s Payette National Forest. The Sprague fire in Montana’s Glacier National Park. The Ponderosa fire east of Oroville, California
- And many others.
NASA officials say this year’s wildfires are even worse than usual. This is due to record-dry and record-hot conditions, plus lightning storms. Human neglect and arson have also been responsible.
Wildfires Damaging Respiratory Systems
Bright orange and yellow fires light up the night while black billowing smoke invades the skies during the day. These are the obvious physical signs of this enormous wildfire problem.
What is not so obvious is the damage the fires are causing to people’s respiratory systems.
Earlier this summer, USA Today wrote an article about the dangers of the smoke and debris left in the air. They reported that wildfires can release a toxic brew of hazardous pollution.
Just last week, The Associated Press published an article about these western wildfires. They said that the fires are causing breathing problems for people. Especially for those already suffering from upper respiratory issues.
“Hazardous Conditions” in Many States
The Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow website reports on the quality of the air. There are currently unhealthy or hazardous air conditions all over the Pacific Northwest. This includes Northern California, Idaho and Montana.
Greg Svelund is a spokesman for Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality. He said, “There’s smoke from Canada, smoke from Idaho, smoke from California and Montana. There’s smoke everywhere.”
Dr. Gopal Allada is a pulmonologist and critical care specialist. He works at Oregon Health & Science University and told National Public Radio, “This haze represents a lot of ambient smoke particles and particulate that’s burning from the trees and organic matter. It’s hanging in the air and hitting our lungs, hitting our nose and causing problems.”
Size Doesn’t Matter With Air Pollution
When there are wildfires, flecks of ash become lodged in the eyes and nose. This causes symptoms such as itchy eyes, sore throats, headaches and nausea. But it is the fine particles (2.5 microns in diameter or less) that represent the bigger health hazard.
“This is not good for our lungs,” Allada said. “When you inhale these really small particles, smaller than a few microns, they can land in your lungs and cause respiratory symptoms.”
High-risk groups for these types of symptoms are those 65 and older and young children.
And it’s not only out West, the American Lung Association reports. 40% of Americans live in states that have unhealthy levels of air pollution.
Getting Inside Doesn’t Solve the Problem
Logic would tell you that if the air outside is dangerous to breathe, get inside. That’s a good idea if there’s a wildfire blazing near you. But it’s impossible to escape all the contaminated air, even when you are within four walls.
As cold air gets inside your home in winter, it forces you to turn on your furnace. As hot air gets inside your home in summer, it forces you to turn on your air conditioner. The same thing happens with air pollution.
Regardless of whether it is cold, cool, hot or warm outside, pollution seeps into your house.
The Centers for Disease Control says that poor indoor air quality is a big problem. It affects people’s respiratory systems. It can also lead to chronic heart and lung problems and even cancer.
Americans spend approximately 90% of their time inside. This means that indoor air pollution can be worse for people’s health than outdoor air pollution.
Joseph Allen is a professor of exposure assessment science at Harvard University. He says most indoor air pollution occurs inside schools, homes and workplaces.
Breathe Easier With This Device
Fortunately, there is something you can do about this serious problem regardless of where you live…
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Not only from unexpected events such as the wildfires and smoke plaguing the western states right now, but also from the invisible toxins that you breathe in every day.