With the enormous Yosemite Rim fire still raging this week (and expected to burn for three more weeks) and four new wildfires now burning in Montana and Idaho, people in the western United States are understandably worried about how all this smoke is affecting their air.
And well they should be; the Laboratory for Aviation and the Environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) came out with a new study last week showing that air pollution causes 200,000 early deaths a year.
Now this particular study was tracking emissions from transportation and power generation, since those are the pollutants that have continuous effects over long periods of time. Other studies have linked smog with artery and heart disease.
But smoky air poses similar health risks; according to a fact sheet from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), wildfire smoke is particularly dangerous for children, older adults, and can cause dangerous exacerbations of asthma, allergies, heart and lung conditions.
What Is It Really Like When Air Quality Reaches Unhealthy Levels?
Driving across Nevada last week on my way home from a summer road trip, I experienced first-hand the effect of the Yosemite Rim fire on the air quality in the Sierras and points east, and it was a shocker.
Halfway across Nevada and still hundreds of miles east of the fire, we started to smell it – it was like being trapped in the draft of a campfire made with wet wood. Our eyes stung, our throats felt gritty, and we all got splitting headaches within an hour, even with the car’s vents tightly closed.
In Reno, sidewalks were deserted and businesses kept their doors and windows tightly closed to protect their air. Some merchants even posted employees at the door to monitor entries and exits; they waited for you to knock, cracked the door as little as possible, then closed it behind you like you were entering a Speakeasy. Here’s how NBC news described the extreme conditions in Reno.
As of today, the Reno-Sparks area still has unhealthy air quality, and specific areas of the Sierra Nevada, such as the resort areas of Pinecrest and Markleeville, are dealing with air quality in the “red” zone.
How do I know this? Because our government offers a handy-dandy website that lets you monitor the air quality in pretty much any area of the U.S. In fact, a bit of obsessive sleuthing revealed several websites that offer an admirable amount of information that can help you protect your own lungs, and those of your family.
Here are three ways to analyze your air quality in real time.
1. Find Out How Bad – or Good – Your Air Is Right Now
A service of the U.S. government that’s received ridiculously little attention, the AirNow website allows you to see a map of air quality in the U.S. and search on your own zipcode or town to check the status of your air. The site also provides regularly updated wildfire smoke advisories and forecasts.
In the San Francisco Bay Area where I live, we have our very own Spare the Air website that provides 5-day air quality forecasts, and somewhat similar services are provided by the air quality management agencies of other regions, including Los Angeles, Maryland/Washington DC and New York.
continue reading How Polluted Is Your Air? 3 Easy Ways To Find Out – Forbes.