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Prepare for unhealthy air

You’re seeing and smelling more of it. Wildfire smoke has returned to our region, and it’s affecting our air quality.

Today (Sept. 11), the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency determined air quality in Pierce County could go from bad to worse this weekend. This means you should take steps to protect yourself and your family from wildfire smoke and poor air quality.

A photo looking west from the Pacific Avenue Bridge in Tacoma with a view of downtown and Commencement Bay.

How can I prepare for smoky air? 

Just like you check the weather forecast to decide whether you need an umbrella or sunglasses (or, in some cases, both!), you should also get in the habit of checking the air quality every day. You can: 

What are the health effects of wildfire smoke?

When air quality is unhealthy, everyone may experience health effects. Unhealthy air quality from wildfire smoke is an added concern for people with COVID-19. Pollutants from the smoke can create more risk for people from this sensitive group and could even worsen their symptoms.

Other sensitive groups are:

  • People with respiratory infections like the cold or flu.
  • People with heart or lung disease, such as asthma or COPD.
  • Adults over age 65.
  • Pregnant women.
  • Children and infants.
  • Diabetics.
  • Smokers.
  • People living with obesity.
  • People with respiratory infections, such as cold or flu.

Health effects include worsening of heart or lung disease, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, coughing, eye and sinus irritation.

How can I protect my health from smoky air? 

  • Contact your healthcare provider if you experience troubling symptoms. For emergencies, call 9-1-1.
  • When the air quality is poor:
    • Avoid physical exertion and stay indoors as much as possible.
    • Keep doors and windows closed when possible.
    • Use a HEPA air cleaner. Avoid air cleaners with ionizing or electrostatic features.
    • Run an air conditioner (if you have one) and set it to re-circulate.
    • Limit other indoor air pollution. Don’t smoke/vape and don’t vacuum or use strong cleaning products and fragrances. Don’t burn candles or incense. 

Everyone’s health is unique. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have health concerns. 

Should I wear a mask?

Certain types of masks can offer protection from wildfire smoke, but they could make breathing more difficult for some people. Be sure to ask your healthcare provider if a mask is right for you. To be effective, masks must fit correctly.

Cloth masks don’t provide adequate protection from wildfire smoke. N95 face masks do provide adequate protection. This type of mask is also what healthcare providers, first responders, and others use to protect themselves during the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of ongoing supply shortages, we recommend you save N95 or other medical-grade masks for them. An alternative is to create a clean room in your home to reduce your exposure to wildfire smoke indoors.

Continue to wear cloth masks, practice physical distancing, keep gatherings small, and follow our other guidance to slow the spread of COVID-19.

You don’t have to be an expert to know when air quality is bad in Pierce County. Trust your eyes and nose and make sure you monitor air quality reports. Find reliable information about wildfire smoke and your health at www.tpchd.org/wildfiresmoke. Pierce County Department of Emergency Management has up to date information about local wildfire activity. You can also sign up for alerts.