Everyone deserves to breathe clean air. Breathing polluted air can cause serious health problems, and even premature death. Because we all breathe the same air, it is everyone’s responsibility to understand what causes air pollution and learn what each of us can do to help keep the air clean.
This week, May 3-7, Ecology and air quality agencies across the country are marking Air Quality Awareness Week to help the public learn about air pollution and what each of us can do to protect our health and safety.
What pollutes the air?
Particle pollution, or particulate matter (PM), is a mixture of tiny solids or liquid droplets that includes smoke, soot, dirt, and dust floating in the air. These tiny particles can harm your health when inhaled. PM mostly comes from wood stoves, outdoor burning, wildfires, blowing dust, and vehicle and industry emissions.
Ecology and local clean air agencies monitor PM to make sure it doesn’t reach harmful levels and advise the public to take precautions when air quality deteriorates.
You can track air quality in your area on Ecology’s Air Quality Monitoring website or download the Air Quality WA app from the Google Play Store or Apple App store.
Smoke from fires
Before you burn anything, check for air quality and fire safety burn bans in your area. If you must burn, be sure it is legal in your area and use proper safety precautions. Be considerate and realize that while the smoke may not bother you, breathing in particulate matter and harmful gases could seriously harm your neighbors.
You can help by switching to a certified wood stove or using electric to heat your home. Outdoors, use alternatives to burning, like composting, bagging, or chipping your yard waste instead and follow the wildfire prevention tips below.
- NEVER throw cigarettes out your car window
- Don't park hot vehicles on the grass
- Make sure trailer chains don't drag on the ground, causing sparks
- Clear the perimeter of your house from pine and fir needles and yard waste
- Report illegal burning
- Extinguish campfires completely
- Have an evacuation plan in place
- Visit Ready, Set, GO! for more emergency preparedness tips
- Monitor the Air Quality Index and stay informed of any wildfires near you.
Central and Eastern Washington are prone to dust storms spring through fall, but these storms can happen at any time of the year and wreak havoc on your health and safety. Much of this blowing dust occurs due to the agriculture and construction industries. We're working with agricultural producers to use less invasive tilling methods and other best management practices.
To receive dust storm alerts, sign up for the National Weather Service notification system and for additional information, sign up for our email list or follow us on Facebook or Twitter.
You can help by not driving fast on dry, dirt roads and delaying projects that stir up dust on windy days.
In Washington, transportation is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollution, like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides.
We’re investing in cleaner transportation by investing funds from the Volkswagen diesel settlements on projects like electric school and transit buses, electric vehicle charging stations, cleaner diesel engines for trucks and buses, shorepower for ships, and converting the first Washington State Ferry for hybrid-electric operation.
You can help reduce greenhouse gases by making small changes around your home and how you travel.
Protecting your health
Even healthy people are affected by air pollution, but people in sensitive groups are particularly vulnerable to poor air quality conditions. Sensitive groups include:
- Elderly people
- Pregnant women
- Those with cardiovascular diseases
- People with respiratory illnesses
- People with other underlying health conditions
If you, or someone you know, is exposed to smoke or unhealthy levels of air pollution, monitor the symptoms closely, which might include:
- Eye, nose, and throat irritation
- Shortness of breath, asthma attack, or lung irritation
- Watery or dry eyes
- Persistent cough, phlegm, wheezing, scratchy throat, or irritated sinuses
- Irregular heartbeat, chest pain, or fatigue
- Nonfatal and fatal heart attacks
If you are in the sensitive group category and your symptoms are extreme, call your doctor immediately and consider leaving the area.
If you are in overall good health, the following advice may help relieve your symptoms:
- For itchy eyes, you can use over the counter artificial tear drops
- For a scratchy throat, drink plenty of water and run a humidifier
- For a headache, take an over-the-counter pain reliever
- Wear an N95 mask if you are outdoors
- Drink plenty of water
- Replace your vehicle's cabin air filter
- Replace the HEPA filter in your home HVAC system
- Limit your time spent outdoors
- Make your own clean air fan