Wildfire smoke reached dangerous levels across the Mountain West Monday. Eastern Washington had the worst air in the country and all 56 counties in Montana were under an air quality alert – possibly the first time that’s happened in the state’s history.
Some people woke up feeling like they had smoked a pack of cigarettes.
“You just generally feel lousy,” Sarah Coefield, a Missoula County air quality specialist, said.
According to Coefield, breathing unhealthy levels of wildfire smoke creates an inflammatory response. For sensitive groups, that can set off an asthma attack or even lead to a stroke or heart attack.
For otherwise healthy people, that can translate to a headache, depression and a cough.
But we don’t really know what the long-term effects of wildfire smoke are because these season-long events are pretty new.
“This didn’t happen in our region prior to 2000,” Coefield said.
Anecdotally, however, she said we can take a look at what happened in Missoula, Montana back in the 1970’s.
At that time, the city allowed wood stoves to burn all winter, which created a lot of smoke in the valley.
Researchers examined the lung capacity of children in the area and found it was reduced compared to kids in the rest of the state.
Coefield recommends people without air conditioners purchase a HEPA-certified air purifier for their home. The machines cost around $100 dollars.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, Yellowstone Public Radio in Montana, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.