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4 August 2017 (Washington Department of Ecology) – Air monitors around Washington state are lighting up the maps like a Christmas tree - and red lights aren't good.

Almost every community in the state has been hit hard by smoke blowing in from British Columbia wildfires. You can see it, you can almost reach out and touch it, and many of us are feeling it.

If you look at air quality across the U.S., Washington has had the worst readings since the wildfire smoke hit the state earlier this week.

Monitors hitting high readings like never before

Mike Ragan, Ecology's air monitoring coordinator, took a snapshot of air pollution values across the state early Thursday and found high levels of particle pollution - everywhere.

"We've never seen numbers like this across the board," said  Ragan. "When the state's cleanest air monitor hits very high levels of pollution, you know it's bad."

In Washington, it's not uncommon for some parts of the state, usually Central and Eastern Washington, to reach unhealthy levels of air pollution during a wildfire. What's different about the current scenario is that the entire state has been blanketed by a thick layer of smoke and Western Washington in particular is socked in.

Washington Department of Ecology air quality network on 3 August 2017. The dots represent an air quality monitor. Graphic: Washington Department of Ecology

In the air pollution world, a daily average of up to 12 micrograms of particle pollution per cubic meter is considered in the healthy range. Anything over that has varying levels of health impacts:

  • 0 – 12 Good
  • 13 – 19  Moderate
  • 20 – 34 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups
  • 35 – 80 Unhealthy
  • 80 – 135 Very unhealthy
  • Over 135 Severe impacts

Even what is typically the state's cleanest air, measured at the monitor on Cheeka Peak near Cape Flattery on the Olympic Peninsula, is showing signs of the smoke.

"Last year at this time, Cheeka Peak read 1 microgram per meter. This morning, it had a reading of 208," Ragan said. "Cheeka Peek is near a shipping lane on the coast. That's not where we expect to see dense air pollution."

While the numbers Ragan captured were not the daily averages, they represent the bigger picture: It's hard for people to breathe. [more]

Smoke chokes Washington - air quality worst in the nation

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