Over the last week air quality in Union County has been moderate to unhealthy, and the Pendleton office of the National Weather Service has extended an Air Quality alert until noon, on September 11. As wildfire smoke continues to enter into the area, air quality is expected to be a concern throughout Union County.

When air quality is impacted by wildfires, Union County public health officials advise residents to take the following precautions:

  • Be aware of smoke concentrations in your area and avoid the places with highest concentrations. To learn more about current conditions and what steps you should take to protect your health visit the Oregon Smoke Blog
  • Avoid smoke either by leaving the area or protecting yourself by staying indoors, and by closing windows and doors
  • Avoid strenuous outdoor activity in smoky conditions.
  • People exposed to smoky conditions and who suffer from asthma or other respiratory problems should follow their breathing management plans or contact their healthcare providers.
  • It is highly recommended that people stay inside and limit their outdoor activity. This is going to be your best defense in protecting your lungs from wildfire smoke.

People who must be outdoors may be considering the use of masks to help protect their lungs from wildfire smoke. Masks can create a false sense of security if not properly selected, fitted and used. Here are a few things you should know if you are considering the use of a mask:

  • Avoid the use of surgical masks, bandanas and other common masks. These have not been shown to prevent smoke exposure.
  • There are specialized masks that may prevent some smoke exposure.
  • Most people will find it difficult to use these specialized masks, called particulate respirators, in a way that provides protection.
  • Selecting the correct respirator size can be difficult.
  • The fit of the respirator must be tested to make sure air does not leak around the sides. Leaking air means that exposure to smoke can still occur.
  • Facial hair can cause the mask to not seal correctly.
  • The masks can be uncomfortable. Even healthy adults may find that the increased effort required for breathing makes it uncomfortable to wear a respirator for more than short periods of time. Breathing may be even more difficult for those with heart and lung conditions.

Decisions on whether to use respirators or masks as personal protection for people who must work outside should be made with the employer.

Check the Wildfires Visibility index for more information on visibility during wildfires. Smoke and wildfires information is posted regularly at the Oregon Smoke Blog, and health threats from wildfire smoke can be found on the Oregon Health Authority website.