Air Quality Still Moderate, Burn Code Yellow, But Stay Tuned

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RENO, NV - No matter whether viewed from the mountains above or down here in the valley, it's kind of disturbing to realize this is the air we're taking in with every breath.

It's also a reminder that every one of us has had a role in creating it.

We're living under an inversion, not unusual this time of year. Up above it's sunny, clear, degrees warmer.

Down here in the Truckee Meadows we're living in a cold pool of air which essentially acts like a lid, trapping all the byproducts of our attempts to stay warm.

"Everything that's coming out of people's fireplaces, chimneys and wood stove stacks is sticking around in our air and were breathing it," says the Washoe County Health Department's Kevin Dick.

Actually, even under the EPA's new tougher standards, this is still officially moderate air pollution.

The burn code is yellow, which means people like Dick are encouraging us to leave the fireplace dark, the wood burning stove unlit. In the days ahead that may not be an option.

"I would not be at all surprised if we get to the red burn code here before too long," says Dick. "And at that point we have pollutant levels in the air that are actually impacting people's health. Children, the elderly, people with cardio-vascular or lung disease, COPD are a lot more sensitive to the higher pollution levels and they would be impacted at that stage."

A red burn code, when we get there, means it will be illegal to use your fireplace or wood burning stove unless it's your only source of heat.

In any case, those new, tougher standards mean we're going to see more days of "moderate" air quality and less when it's pronounced "good."

The good news is overall Truckee Meadows air is getting better. Thanks to better standards on our vehicles, furnaces and fuels, Dick says our air is markedly cleaner today than it was 20 years ago.