Smoke from a distant fire: What to do on an air quality action day

Health

That’s not a regular, ordinary atmospheric haze out there today.

Smoke from forest fires out west has made its way to the east coast.

Most of it comes from wildfires in northern and western Canada. The fine particulate matter hanging in the air is potentially unhealthy, especially for the elderly, the very young and people with issues such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis.

As a result, The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has issued a Code Orange Air Quality Action Day for fine particulate matter for Tuesday, July 20, for much of Pennsylvania, including the southcentral counties of Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, and York.

Also included are the southeastern counties of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia; the Lehigh Valley-Berks Area which includes the counties of Berks, Lehigh, and Northampton; and the southwestern counties of Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland.

Code Orange is the second-highest level on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Air Quality Index (AQI). It represents unhealthy pollution levels for sensitive groups of people. The highest lever, Red, warns of unhealthy pollution levels for everyone.

How can you help? EPA and DEP say residents and businesses within the Air Quality Action Day areas can help reduce air pollution by:

  • Reducing or eliminating fireplace and wood stove use;
  • Avoiding the open burning of leaves, trash and other materials; and
  • Avoiding the use of gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.

If you are in one of the sensitive categories, here are some recommendations:

  • Stay indoors, preferably in air conditioning (air conditioners can filter out some of the particles.)
  • Avoid strenuous activity outdoors-anything that makes you breath harder means you inhale more particulate matter.
  • If you’re on medications, follow your schedule. If you have something like a rescue inhaler, keep it close at hand.
  • Stay hydrated. Hydration keeps the mucous linings in your lungs from thickening, which makes it harder to swap carbon dioxide for oxygen.
  • Breath through your nose, it’s your air filter.

For more information, visit DEP’s website, or EPA’s AirNow.

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