MISSOULA - There’s nothing you can do about the epic, depressive fire smoke that’s plagued Western Montana this summer -- short of stopping the wildfires. But the horrible conditions of recent weeks may lead to changes in the way we’re being warned about the dangers from breathing all that smoke.
Not only have this year’s fires been fierce and destructive, but the persistent smoke -- especially the last two weeks -- has ruined everyone’s summer. That’s especially true for the elderly, children and people with respiratory problems…
“Certainly, Seeley Lake is the most incredible and distressing thing I’ve ever seen. Its the worst we’ve ever seen in Missoula County," Missoula City-County Health Department Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield said.
There have been multiple times when Seeley Lake’s air was not only Hazardous, but beyond 1,000 micrograms, which had been unheard of. Coefield says the readings have actually outrun the monitors.
“Well you know, there are monitors out there that can measure past 1000. We just don’t have one in Seeley Lake right now. So, as far as monitoring ability, the ability exists," Coefield said.
The bigger change caused by this year’s smoke could come in how people are warned about the dangers of exposure. The current system only used a one day snapshot and wasn’t designed to be used for weeks at a time.
“Right now the current health messaging is based around a 24-hour exposure. And we have clearly surpassed 24-hours particulate exposure," Coefield explained. "And I think that there needs to be some re-adjusting in how we look at what we tell people to what to expect for health impacts and how to protect themselves.”
The other problem is its hard to gauge exactly what the long-term health impacts will be, simply because we’ve never had a season like this -- at least in modern times.
“It’s a cumulative pollutant. And the longer you’re in it the worse it is and the more it’s going to effect you. And right now we’re still just using based off a 24-hour average idea. But it’s not really what we’re seeing," Coefield said.
It should be noted that even with all the smoke, Missoula itself still hasn’t set a new 24-hour record this summer.