As ongoing wildfires in Canada continue to cause intermittent air quality concerns in St. Charles County and across the U.S., the St. Charles County Department of Public Health’s Division of Environmental Health and Protection is advising residents to take time every day to check their local air quality forecast and make adjustments to keep themselves and their families healthy.
“Air quality concerns were most noticeable during recent weeks when smoke from the Canadian wildfires was visibly present, but some of those concerns remain even without the visual smoke,” says Ryan Tilley, Division Director for the Division of Environmental Health and Protection. “Air quality varies on a daily basis and is something to keep an eye on if you are vulnerable and planning to be outside for an extended period of time.”
Air contamination consisting of ozone and smoke particles from wildfires, even in less-visible amounts, can cause eye or respiratory irritation, Tilley says. Exposure to high concentrations, or to smaller amounts over multiple days, is linked to aggravation of pre-existing respiratory and cardiovascular disease and increased risk of premature mortality.
According to the American Lung Association, the people most vulnerable to health symptoms from poor air quality include children and teenagers, older adults, and people with heart or respiratory health conditions, as well as those who spend longer periods of time outdoors.
“The County has real-time information about regional air quality at sccmo.org/AirQuality. We recommend this as a tool for anyone in the community, but particularly for people in one or more at-risk categories,” Tilley says. “On days when the air quality is worse than normal, it’s wise to consider reducing prolonged or strenuous outdoor activity.”
Tilley recommends residents reduce their gas or smoke emissions on poor air quality days by carpooling with others, combining errands to reduce trips, and postponing burning yard waste and using gas-powered lawn equipment.
For broader information about air quality and health impacts from wildfires, go to airnow.gov/wildfires and click on the “Smoke from Fires and Your Health” link.
Air quality is reported using a nationally standardized index that uses colors to communicate current conditions. Below is what each of those colors mean, according to the U.S. Air Quality Index:
- Green (Good): Air quality is satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.
- Yellow (Moderate): Air quality is acceptable. However, there may be a risk for some people, particularly those who are unusually sensitive to air pollution.
- Orange (Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups): Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is less likely to be affected.
- Red (Unhealthy): Some members of the general public may experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.
- Purple (Very Unhealthy): The risk of health effects is increased for everyone.