Idaho Smoke Map

Idaho Smoke Map Legend

**(Preliminary Data Warning: Data found on the map shown below is preliminary and is subject to change. Data is in local standard time format - no adjustment for daylight savings time.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Wildfire Smoke and Your Health - Air Quality

Welcome back! We’ve spent several days talking about pollutants and how to avoid them. Now let’s talk about how we at the Department of Environmental Quality keep track of them and provide you with the results.

Throughout the Great State of Idaho we have 30 air quality monitoring stations. Twenty of them take real time measurements of air contaminants. The other ten use integrated sampling methods to get their measurements. Bet you want to know what we measure? I got ya covered. We measure:
  • ·       Particulate Matter (remember that from a few days ago?)
  • ·       Carbon Monoxide (keeps your blood from getting all the oxygen it can)
  • ·       Nitrogen Dioxide (when exposed to sunlight this will create ozone)
  • ·       Sulfur Dioxide (harmful to the respiratory system and contributes to “haze” in the sky)
  • ·       Ozone (not the good kind of ozone –the EPA’s motto is “good up high, bad nearby.” It is the main ingredient in smog and makes breathing difficult.)

We use these measurements to issue a daily Air Quality Index value and to determine if we need to issue warnings to the public (like this blog!) or keep people from burning outdoors and contributing even more pollutants. We also use them to keep track of pollution trends and which areas of the state are meeting air quality standards. We have lots of resources on our website so that you can get real time air quality data. Check them out sometime.

So, after all this time, what’s the take away? Smoke is bad. Tiny little particulate matter can give you serious health problems. VOCs in smoke might give you a headache and stinging eyes[MB1] . VOCs in very high concentrations can cause considerable more health problems. We constantly record data and issue results and warnings as needed so you can protect yourself from smoke.

If you have any questions, send us a message. I’ll also make one more plug for our friends at Idaho Health and Welfare. Have a gander at their site if you have health specific questions and have a go at our website if you have environmental questions.

Thanks everyone! Stay safe out there - metaphorically “out there” not actually outside – at least not when it’s smoky! When it is, I suggest you stay indoors where there is a good filter in the ventilation system. Also a piece of common sense advice – close the windows and doors. Every time you open them, you let in the smoke!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Wildfire Smoke and Your Health - Filters

Alright! You did it. You are hanging in there. Let’s get to it.

Last time, I suggested you get a better filter for your HVAC. You’re probably thinking “that’s great, but how do I know what filter to choose?” Well, here’s a very quick primer. Air filters are rated using the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value (MERV).  Basically, the higher the MERV number, the smaller the particle that the filter can catch. For our purposes, the minimum MERV that removes fine particulates from smoke is MERV 13. If you wanna “go big or go home” though, a MERV 17 will get you HEPA levels of removal. Know that a MERV 13 can be effective at removing the fine particulates IF you are recirculating the air through the filter over and over and over. The more times it passes through, the cleaner it will be. Of course, they are so efficient that they will need to be changed frequently thanks to all the stuff that’s accumulating. Here’s a chart to help you understand the MERV rating a little bit better:

MERV Rating
Dust Spot Efficiency
Controlled Contaminant
Typical Setting Used
Small than 0.03 pm particulate size
All combustion smoke

Sneeze droplets
Superior commercial buildings
3.0-10.0 pm particulate size
Commercial buildings
Dust mites, sanding dust

As you can see, upgrading from the typical factory installed filter to higher rating will get you significant improvements in catching the concerning materials in smoke. The last thing I’ll say about MERV filters is that you should probably have a talk with your HVAC technician first. Not all the systems out there can handle a filter with a higher rated MERV. And blowing out your unit would ruin all the work you were trying to do.

Alright, we’ve covered what the pollutants in smoke are and why they aren’t good for you. We’ve covered what you can do to protect yourself. Next time let’s talk about how we measure these pollutants and where you can find that information. As always, go to Idaho Health and Welfare’s site for any more health concerns. You can also find some good links under the “Smoke and Health” tab up top. Take care and see you soon!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Wildfire Smoke and Your Health - Protect Yourself

Hey! There you are. You came back. You are so dedicated to your health. Good for you. Today we’ll talk about how you can protect yourself from the smoke nasties.

Start by having a good look at your AC or air ventilation system. If you’ve got central air already, it may be as easy as upgrading your filter. Once you’ve done that, run your AC on the “recirculate” mode if you can so that it’s not bringing in more smoky air. If you don’t have AC, you may be able to run the fan with the heat off so that it’s still pushing through that nice new filter you bought.

Can’t do any of that? Or maybe you can but you want to make sure you are getting rid of as much particulates and VOCs as you can? Get a room air purifier with HEPA filtration and set it up in the room where you spend the most of your time. Don’t forget to take it to the bedroom when you sleep – you’ll breathe better AND be lulled to sleep by the white noise. You’re welcome.

A word of caution: the purifier needs to be sized appropriately for the room you are in. Ideally, it should be circulating the air 2-3 times an hour. If it doesn’t, you probably won’t see a big difference. When you go out to shop for an air purifier, be cautious. Some will say “HEPA-like.” They aren’t the same thing as a true HEPA filter and won’t be as effective. Also, make sure you don’t get a purifier that’s producing ozone. That’s another pollutant and also harmful to your health. You can check this website to see which have been approved as not producing harmful levels of ozone.

You can also go to Idaho Health and Welfare’s wildfire smoke page  (I know you already did it once because we already covered how dedicated you are) and read up on HEPA air cleaners. It’s under the main paragraph in big black letters : Portable Air Cleaners. Click that little plus sign and delve in. You’ll learn some good stuff. Next time we’ll talk specifically about how to choose a filter for your new air cleaner or if you are upgrading your HVAC filter. So long! Not too long though. You need to come back and finish what you started.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Wildfire Smoke and Your Health - Particulate Matter

Welcome back to our series about smoke and your health. Glad you were able to find your way back.. Let’s get started.

Last time we talked about VOCs- but if it’s not VOCs, who’s the big baddie of the smoke world then? Particulates. They’re tiny. Like tiny tiny. Here’s a handy graphic from the EPA that should give you some idea of how tiny we’re talking.
So what’s the big deal? Well, PM2.5 gets past your body’s natural defense system (think nose hairs and mucus) and goes straight for your big cushy lungs. From there, it can get into your bloodstream and cause all sorts of problems. Here’s a few:

  • ·       Increased risk of hospital admissions and premature death in those with existing heart and lung diseases –asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart disease, or ischemic heart disease. Older people are especially susceptible.
  • ·       Increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.
  •       Can aggravate existing respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic bronchitis.
  • ·       Difficult for people with existing lung disease and children (whose lungs are still developing) to breathe deeply causing coughing and shortness of breath.

Nobody wants any of that. But there are some things that can be done to protect you. We’ll talk about those next time. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, go check out the Idaho Health and Welfare website for more health related matters. If you’ve done that and aren’t ready to leave the black hole that is the internet, have a look at the DEQ’s website and learn about other pollutants. See ya next time!

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Wildfire Smoke and Your Health - An Intro to VOCs

Welcome back to this series of posts talking about smoke and your health. Glad you found your way back to us. Hope this information helps you out. Let me know if you have any questions.

As I mentioned before, VOCs are just one component of smoke. VOCs are chemical compounds that turn in to gas very easily at room temperature making it very easy for them to find their way to your nose. They aren’t the worst part of the smoke as they only make up a small portion of the overall smoke you’re breathing- but they are an obnoxious part. The part that makes your eyes sting and water, gives you headaches and a scratchy throat and makes you feel generally uncomfortable. You usually hear about VOCs when talking about paints and solvents and you know how nasty that stuff can be.

The good news is you can get filters to remove VOCs from your home, most commonly in the form of an activated carbon pre-filter in a portable air cleaner. The bad news is that the filter gets saturated pretty quickly. So unless you’re going to change them out often they won’t do you much good. They can also get pretty spendy. If you’re one of the folks that VOCs really bother though, it may be worth the extra investment. Check out the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare website for more information.

Also, you need to know wearing a paper mask or even an N95 mask WILL NOT protect you from VOCs. You may look totally awesome in one but if VOCs are your nemesis, they won’t help.
My next post, probably tomorrow, will talk about what Particulate Matter is and what you could do to protect yourself from PM pollution. If you feel like getting extra credit or have more health related questions, you can check out the Idaho Health and Welfare’s page dedicated to wildfire smoke. Hope you find your way back to us. Talk to you soon!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Wildfire Smoke and Your Health

Alright, the time has come again to talk about smoke and your health. We’re talking wildfire smoke. That big ugly haze that hangs over our heads so much of the time we go outside in late summer when we’re supposed to lounging by the pool with a cool drink in our hand, reading a light book, relaxing without a care in the world. I digress. It’s not news to tell you that wildfire smoke isn’t good for you. Particulate matter and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are the two main components of smoke that are likely to affect your health when wildfire season rolls around.

Over the next several days I want to share with you what I’ve learned about wildfire smoke from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, as well as the Department of Environmental Quality -what makes up smoke, how do we measure its pollutants, how you can be prepared for it, and what can you do to lessen your exposure? On my next post in this series I will talk about what VOCs are and what you can do to remove them from your home. Hope to see you again and until then kick back with a good book and relax (inside the house with the AC going, of course)!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Looking Ahead

The National Interagency Fire Center (based in Boise, Idaho) puts out a monthly fire potential outlook. Here are the outlooks for September and October.

Fairly good weekend on the way

Impacts from smoke today can be expected to be confined to upper level haze over southwestern Idaho and northeast into central and northern Idaho due to winds from the southwest bring smoke from the fires still burning in California and Oregon. This looks to continue on Saturday with increasing coverage to all of southern Idaho as the winds come from the west. Optimistically, it looks as though the Panhandle and parts of central Idaho will clear out during the afternoon tomorrow. 

Saturday night into Sunday, the Panhandle looks to be impacted by smoke from Washington with clearing in the afternoon. South Idaho should expect to see similar conditions to Saturday. By Monday, north Idaho again looks to clear while south Idaho will still have smoke aloft. All weekend, we look to be more impacted by transport smoke rather than smoke from local fires.

This image shows the modeled smoke aloft over Idaho this afternoon (09/07/18 4pm MDT). It shows a large plume of smoke being transported into southwest and central Idaho from Oregon and California.
Data Source: Bluesky USFS AirFire.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Local impacts with a bit of haze down south

Smoke impacts today are expected to be extremely localized and greatest (while still remaining relatively light) over the central and southern Panhandle and south to Latah County while the remainder of the state is expected to remain clear with upper level haze evident over southern Idaho thanks to southwesterly winds and fires burning in CA/OR. Over night, drainage into the Upper Snake via the Big Lost and Little Lost should be expected, but will dissipate in the early afternoon.

This image shows expanded smoke coverage from the southern Panhandle and south into the Camas and Weippe Prairies.  The rest of the state remained clear.
MODIS Today Terra Visible Imagery for 09/05/2018. Data Source: University of Wisconsin

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Not a lot of smoke, some haze

Smoke impacts today are expected to be extremely localized and greatest (while still remaining relatively light) over the central and southern Panhandle while the remainder of the state is expected to remain clear with upper level haze evident over southern Idaho due to the southwesterly winds and fires burning in CA/OR.
This image shows very limited smoke coverage within the Purcell Trench which corresponds to elevated AQI values for that day.  The rest of the state remained clear.

MODIS Today Terra Visible Imagery for 09/04/2018. Data Source: University of Wisconsin