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Air quality rated ‘unhealthy’ in Helena due to wildfire smoke

Posted: 9:52 AM, May 31, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-31 11:52:44-04

Smoke from Canadian wildfires is pushing into Montana and impacting air quality.

The Department of Environmental Quality rated Helena’s current air quality as “unhealthy,” which means that active children and adults, and people with respiratory disease, such as asthma, should avoid prolonged outdoor exertion; everyone else, especially children, should limit prolonged outdoor exertion.

The  DEQ rates air quality  based on the amount of particulate matter (PM) in the air, which is often caused by smoke from wildfires. In addition to being emitted from wildfires, PM can also come directly from other sources, such as construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, and smokestacks.

The EPA says that PM is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air. Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope.

Great Falls, Butte, and Lewistown are rated as “unhealthy for sensitive groups” while Missoula, Dillon, and Malta were “moderate.”

Here are the ratings and their corresponding color codes, listed in order of increasing danger or health risks:

  • Good (green): No negative health effects.
  • Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups (orange): Increasing likelihood of respiratory symptoms in sensitive individuals, aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly. People with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly and children should limit prolonged exertion.
  • Unhealthy (red): Increased aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; increased respiratory effects in the general population. People with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children should avoid prolonged exertion; everyone else should limit prolonged exertion.
  • Very Unhealthy (Purple): Significant aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; significant risk of respiratory effects in the general population. People with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children should avoid any outdoor activity; everyone else should avoid prolonged exertion.
  • Hazardous (maroon): Serious aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly; serious risk of respiratory effects in the general population. Everyone should avoid any outdoor exertion.