Wildfire smoke triggers report to EPA

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Kennewick and Yakima experience 'exceptional' air quality event

In 2017, the state was overwhelmed by smoke from wildfires across the west, including Northern California, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and right here in Washington.

Graphic showing air quality in Washington during Sept 2017

Smoke from wildfires blanketed all of Washington in Spetember 2017. Dense smoke remained in Kennewick and Yakima causing unhealthy air for a prolonged period of time.

In early September, dry conditions caused rapid fire growth, which filled the sky with dense smoke. This was bad news for air quality. And bad news for people. Wildfire smoke is made up of gases and particulate matter that can be dangerous when inhaled.

Kennewick and Yakima were hit especially hard. Stagnant weather conditions trapped smoke in the natural valleys, causing poor air quality on Sept. 5, 6, and 7. Air quality readings were almost two times higher than the health-based standard for particle pollution. And the data captured during this event could put these two areas in a category of failing to meet National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

If areas fail to meet national standards, industry and local governments may be required to implement new air quality controls to prevent and reduce pollution.

Part of our work to protect people is to monitor and track air quality and provide advanced warnings to those who could be affected by poor air quality. Monitoring also helps us determine if a region meets the national air quality standards to protect human health.

For Kennewick and Yakima, we’ve developed a report requesting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency exclude the data collected during this event from calculations used to determine whether the region meets the NAAQS because it was an exceptional event, due to the nature of wildfires.

An exceptional event is an unusual or naturally-occurring event that can affect air quality, but cannot be reasonably controlled. Our goal is to keep Washington within the range of clean air requirements, while recognizing that there are sometimes circumstances that are out of our control.

Review the report and submit comments

We’re asking you to consider our report and provide input. Our evaluation demonstrates that the Northwest wildfires qualify an exceptional event and concludes the high levels of air pollution from smoke should be excluded.

Submit comments online or by mail to Caroline Sun, Department of Ecology, Air Quality Program, P.O. Box 47600, Olympia, WA 98504.

Protect yourself from wildfire smoke

This year as wildfire season heats up the Washington Department of Health is urging people in Washington to plan now for smoky days.

Recent warm and dry weather melted last winter's snowpack faster than normal. This means more of the landscape is exposed, more growth of the plants that fuels fire, making the wildfire risk high this summer.

You can keep tabs on current air quality near you at www.wasmoke.blogspot.com