Are smoky summer skies the new norm? | Editorial

Thanks to the more than 500 fires in British Columbia and a dozen in Washington, our skies are hazy and our respiratory systems are under attack.

So how bad is the air, really? It’s hard to say for certain because the San Juans have zero air monitoring devices. Kyle Dodd, the environmental resource manager for San Juan County, said the DOE will place an air monitoring device in Friday Harbor from October 2018 through March 2019. We think this is great and look forward to the results – although the window of monitoring will likely bypass the wildfire season.

For the second summer in a row, we’ve been inhaling wildfire smoke with toxic, microscopic particles that burrow deep into our lungs. The closest air quality monitoring station in Anacortes, about 20 miles away, reported the air as “very unhealthy” on Aug. 21 and 22.

It is the second-highest classification on the Department of Ecology’s air monitoring chart and states that “everyone should stay indoors, avoid all strenuous activity, close windows and doors if it’s not too hot, set your air conditioning to recirculate, and use a high-efficiency particulate air filter if possible.”

The smoke from forest fires contains very small particles and gases, including carbon monoxide, which can get into your eyes and lungs. Many of us have been experiencing eye, nose and throat irritation as well as wheezing, coughing, shortness of breath and headaches. It also aggravates existing lung, heart and circulatory conditions, including asthma and angina.

According to the DOE, air monitoring will help determine a baseline of pollutants in our local air. If the temporary device in Friday Harbor collects drastically different data than nearby monitors on the mainland, the department may look at a long-term solution.

We urge the department to create a permanent monitoring system for us. We need to have accurate data on our environment and living conditions.

According to a New York Times story in July, the following factors have contributed to the West Coast’s blazes: warmer and drier-than-average temperatures; large amounts of grass; below-average snowpack; increased potential for lightning; and population growth and urban expansion into forestlands.

These elements don’t show any signs of changing in the near future. If wildfires are the new norm, it’s critical that we plan accordingly. The health risks are too great to have our head in the clouds – especially if those clouds are toxic.