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Humor a bittersweet touch for Missoula air quality specialist - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Humor a bittersweet touch for Missoula air quality specialist

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MISSOULA - As we talked about air quality this summer, there were not a lot of positive things to say.

Despite the depressing outlook, a Missoula City-County Health Department air quality specialist took it upon herself to find humor in a smoky situation.

Sarah Coefield even wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post, as word of the terrible conditions, and surprising humor, spread.

Coefield said she and her colleagues tried to make the best of being the bearers of bad news.  

“If I wasn’t able to put in the more light-hearted moments, that would make it even harder for me," she said. "It is impossible for me to not kind of have these undercurrents of wry statements going through my brain, and if I can put them out there and other people can enjoy them, that is all the better."

MCCHD’s twice-daily updates sent out across the region became known for making people laugh.

Smoke from multiple nearby states and Canada also contributed to the poor air quality.

At one point, she and her colleagues sang Ride of the Valkyries while watching a satellite image of a massive smoke plume moving in towards western Montana.

Coefield scrolled through her emails, opening some of her ’greatest hits. “You could see it, coming at us, so I had one here, the ‘smoke whammy approaches,’” she read.

“And that was the truth, we sat here and doo da duh doo doo doo doda doo doo,” she sang.

However, Coefield’s humor is bittersweet. “Some folks were hit really really hard, and got really really sick.”

Many people and school districts were not prepared for this summer.

Between writing updates, Coefield work with other agencies and nonprofits to pull together enough air filters for every classroom, and anyone else who needed them.

Sometimes they had to say no to smoke-sickened people.

Coefield and other researchers are now trying to figure out what some of the long-term effects of this summer’s wildfire smoke season might be.

This summer was no laughing matter, but the air quality team hoped the light touch was appreciated.

“So, be compassionate toward your neighbors, we are all in it together, and it is going to happen again, so take care of each other, and try to protect yourself and get a filter for next year,” she said.

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