In the United States, air quality is monitored under the federal government law known as Clean Air Act. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) monitors certain pollutants in the air and releases yearly reports. States have to maintain air quality within the mandates of “attainment” set forth by federal government. If the area of the state was determined to be in “nonattainment” based on a three-year history of surveillance, then that area has to work on achieving better air quality. In the meantime:
• It can slow tourism
• Require businesses to adhere to stricter rules and expensive monitoring systems, which can cause businesses to leave the area, taking the jobs with them.
• Prevent new businesses from coming into the area, preventing new economic growth and new job opportunities.
Air quality in Kittitas County
Ellensburg has had a real-time air monitoring station since 1999. The state Department of Ecology and Kittitas County Public Health Department has been monitoring air quality, and in 2012 it was noted that Kittitas County had poor air quality, compared to other parts of Washington state. Through a Community Health Assessment in 2012, it was also noted that Kittitas County had significantly higher mortality rates of influenza and pneumonia, which can be related to the poor air quality.
How is air quality determined?
The EPA established National Ambient Air Quality Standards for PM2.5. National Ambient Air Standards are established to be protective of public health. The short-term standard (24-hour or daily average) is 35 micrograms per cubic meter of air (µg/m3) and the long-term standard (annual average) is 12 µg/m3. A microgram is a unit of weight. There are a million micrograms in a gram, and a pound is equal to about 450 grams.
What is PM 2.5?
The term fine particles, or particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), refers to tiny particles or droplets in the air that are 2 1/2 microns or less in width.
Like inches, meters and miles, a micron is a unit of measurement for distance. There are about 25,000 microns in an inch. The widths of the larger particles in the PM2.5 size range would be about 30 times smaller than that of a human hair. The smaller particles are so small that several thousand of them could fit on the period at the end of this sentence.
Most of the air pollution in Washington is caused by wood smoke:
• Wood burning ovens
• Burning yard waste
• Agricultural: burning crop residue or fruit tree debris
• Wild fire burning
How can PM 2.5 affect the health of the public?
Particles in the PM2.5 size range are able to travel deeply into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs. Exposure to fine particles can cause short-term health effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath.
Exposure to fine particles can also affect lung function and worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. Scientific studies have linked increases in daily PM2.5 exposure with increased respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions, emergency department visits and deaths.
Studies also suggest that long-term exposure to fine particulate matter may be associated with increased rates of chronic bronchitis, reduced lung function and increased mortality from lung cancer and heart disease. People with breathing and heart problems, children and the elderly may be particularly sensitive to PM2.5.
How can I reduce my exposure to PM 2.5?
When outdoor levels of PM2.5 are elevated, going indoors may reduce your exposure, although some outdoor particles will come indoors. If there are significant indoor sources of PM2.5, levels inside may not be lower than outside. Some ways to reduce exposure are to limit indoor and outdoor activities that produce fine particles (for example, burning candles indoors or open burning outdoors) and avoid strenuous activity in areas where fine particle levels are high.
How will I know when PM 2.5 is high?
The Daily Record reports burn bans that affect air quality levels, similar to reports on fire danger in a summer months. You can find this information Monday through Saturday on Page A2.
What can I do to reduce PM 2.5 in our county?
Since most air pollution comes from wood burning, you should eliminate or limit burning. That includes:
• Disposing of your waste, rather than burning it
• Burning dry wood, because wood releases a lot more pollutants into the air when it is wet
• Ensuring your chimney is regularly cleaned
• Making sure your wood burning stove is certified
• Considering switching to a different energy source altogether
Anna Elperin, DO, is a resident physician at Community Health of Central Washington in Ellensburg.