Wildfire smoke, a real health threat monitored constantly

Published: Jul. 19, 2021 at 5:04 PM PDT|Updated: Jul. 19, 2021 at 6:39 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - You didn’t have to catch a newscast in the past few days to get the headline.

All you had to do was step outside to check out the strange color of the sky or take a deep breath. Smoke from fires, both north and south of us, carried the news.

On Monday the Truckee Meadows got relative respite. By midday it was almost possible to forget about the fires, while those in Carson City, closer to the Tamarack Fire in the Markleeville area, continued to suffer.

That smoke carried more than word that homes are threatened and familiar landscape is being lost. It brings a real health threat to our doorstep.

“Especially those that are considered sensitive,” noted Washoe County District Health air quality specialist Brendan Schneider. “The elderly, children, those with heart and lung disease.”

Schneider says, the advice is straight forward common sense.

“Breathing is important obviously, so you need to reduce your activity. Stay inside. Take it easy.”

Once inside, he added, it helps to keep the air in there as clean as possible, close windows and doors.

All of this is why the Washoe County Health District keeps an eye on our air, literally 24/7, 365 days a year at seven different monitoring stations throughout the county. All the various pollutants we foul our air with are monitored and recorded by sensors on the roof and a bank of equipment inside.

Together they report in virtual real time what’s in our air and how much of it. Vital information if you’re in one of those at-risk groups.

Extra equipment has been added by the federal EPA in anticipation of days like this as part of a three year study of wildfire smoke. But primarily this station’s mission is to help report the day’s air quality index and whatever concerns it may indicate.

For people like Brendan Schneider that information is there in detail, in tables of numbers and maps which help him forecast tomorrow’s conditions. The rest of us can find it reduced to an easy to understand graph, showing our air quality at any moment. You can access the same graph at home at AirNow.gov and put it to use. You’ll find information on how to cope at Washoe County’s Be Smoke Smart website.

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