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Air quality in western Montana reaches unhealthy levels

Residents encouraged to take precautions to protect their lungs
Health officials warn of overlap in symptoms between COVID-19 and wildfire smoke inhalation
Posted at 4:10 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 18:10:17-04

HELENA — State officials are warning people in western Montana about potentially unhealthy air quality due to wildfires.

According to a press release, air quality in Western Montana including Beaverhead, Broadwater, Cascade, Deer Lodge, Flathead, Gallatin, Granite, Jefferson, Lake, Lewis and Clark, Lincoln, Madison, Meagher, Mineral, Missoula, Park, Powell, Ravalli, Sanders and Silver Bow counties has reached unhealthy levels. The elevated particulate levels in the air are due to smoke from wildfires burning in Montana and out of state. Moderate to unhealthy air quality is expected throughout the day and into tomorrow. Precipitation could offer some relief starting tomorrow evening.

When air quality is unhealthy, active children and adults, and people who have a chronic condition, such as asthma or another respiratory disease, or cardiovascular disease, should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion. For hazardous air quality, it is recommended that all children and adults should avoid or limit outdoor exertion.

Exposure to wildfire pollutants can irritate lungs, cause inflammation, alter immune function and increase susceptibility to respiratory infections, including COVID-19. Populations known to be vulnerable to wildfire smoke exposure include: children, senior citizens, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions such as heart or lung disease—including asthma and diabetes—and outdoor workers. Other factors that may contribute to increased vulnerability include homelessness and limited access to medical care. Respiratory symptoms such as dry cough, sore throat and difficulty breathing are common to both wildfire smoke exposure and COVID-19. If you are experiencing severe symptoms, such as difficulty breathing or chest pain, you should seek prompt medical attention by calling 911 or calling ahead to the nearest emergency facility.

An N95 respirator offers protection against wildfire smoke particulate matter when worn correctly to achieve a proper fit and seal. However, the use of filtering facepiece respirators can cause breathing issues for some individuals. For this reason, individuals with pre-existing medical conditions, such as heart or lung disease, should consult with their healthcare provider prior to respirator use. Respirators do not come in sizes suitable for children, so they are not effective at reducing wildfire smoke exposure for this population.

When air quality is unhealthy, DPHHS and DEQ encourage Montanans and visitors to consider the following tips to protect their health:

  • Before heading outside for any physical activity, check for air quality updates and pay attention to any hazardous air quality advisories. Air quality information is updated regularly at: []
  • When wildfires occur, continue to monitor DEQ’s site for changes in air quality.
  • Pay attention to visibility. How far can you see in the distance? Looking at visibility can help estimate air quality.
  • If the air quality is poor, limit outdoor activities and keep your indoor air clean by keeping all doors and windows shut and setting any air conditioning units to recirculate indoor air.
  • Consider using HEPA air cleaners indoors to reduce overall smoke exposure.
  • Maintain an adequate supply of food and medication (more than five days).
  • If you have a chronic lung or heart condition, check with your health care providers before the fire season about precautions to take during smoke events.
  • Do not perform any activities that will add to indoor pollution.
  • Use the air recirculate feature in vehicles when possible.
  • If traveling, be aware of the air quality in the area and have a back-up plan.
  • For information about how to protect your health during wildfire season, go to []

This summer, DEQ will post smoke forecasts during times when smoke is causing air quality impacts. The forecasts will be posted to social media and on: [] by clicking on the “Wildfire Smoke Outlook” link.