Measuring air quality in Montana

Posted at 8:40 AM, Aug 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-01 10:40:11-04

HELENA – Smoke from wildfires in California — as well as others from Oregon — are continuing to impact the Treasure State.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) measures air quality based on standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Some of the most common air pollutants include carbon monoxide, lead and fine particulate matter.

Particulate matter is one of the primary reasons for poor air quality from wildfires. Air quality scientists use very specialized equipment to measure those particles which are recorded on a strip of paper.

"These instruments continuously pull ambient air, filter out the particulate, and measure the mass of the particulate that it collects over a given period of time," explained DEQ Research and Monitoring Supervisor Doug Kuenzli.

The DEQ was reporting "moderate" air quality at all stations located west of the Continental Divide as of Wednesday morning.  Click here to view the latest Montana air quality readings from the DEQ.

If you’re finding it difficult to breathe, health officials advise limiting your exposure to the smoke. People with respiratory illnesses, the young, and elderly are advised to limited prolonged exposure to the smoke.

The Montana Department of Environmental Quality provided this information for Tuesday:

Hazy skies and air quality impacts are increasing in Montana as smoke from the very active fires along the West Coast has moved into the state. The good news is that most of this smoke has remained above ground level, with air quality still only reaching MODERATE levels in Libby, Columbia Falls, Frenchtown, Seeley Lake, Missoula, Helena, Great Falls, Lewistown, West Yellowstone, and Broadus. Elsewhere, ground level concentrations have remained GOOD despite the increasing haze.

This smoke is being transported in from the intense fire activity in California and Oregon. A ridge of high pressure is dominating the weather pattern, trapping this smoke over much of the west. Unfortunately, conditions are only expected to get worse through Thursday, with additional smoke moving in. While most of this smoke should stay above ground level, air quality is expected to steadily worsen, likely reaching UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS in some areas by Thursday.

In addition to the transported smoke, fire activity here in Montana is likely to increase this week due to the hot and dry weather. Dry thunderstorms are possible beginning this afternoon through Thursday, further increasing the risk of new fires. A disturbance will move in on Thursday evening, causing an increase in winds here in Montana. While this has the potential to increase fire activity closer to home, this trough should help clear out and redirect the smoke that is being transported in from the southwest.

Fire activity remains light in Montana. The Davis fire near Yaak is now 150 acres and 0% contained. The Bacon Rind fire near Yellowstone is 420 acres and the Wawa fire near Zortman is 2,850 acres.