GREAT FALLS — The Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has issued an Air Quality Alert for several counties, primarily in southwestern and western Montana.
The decreased air quality is due primarily to wildfire smoke blowing into Montana from other states, including California.
“Our conditions in Missoula County are in the upper limits of moderate and occasionally tipping over to unhealthy for sensitive groups," explained Missoula City-County air quality specialist Sarah Coefield.
The designation of “unhealthy for sensitive groups” impacts a larger segment of the population than many realize, according to Coefield: “It includes children, includes the elderly, it’s anyone with heart or lung disease, it’s people with diabetes, it’s people who are pregnant. It’s a pretty significant portion of our population.”
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From the DEQ Today's Air website as of 5:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 25:
- An AIR QUALITY ALERT remains in effect for the following counties: Beaverhead, Deer Lodge, Gallatin, Granite, Jefferson, Madison, Missoula, Park, Ravalli, and Silver Bow, in effect until further notice. Air quality in Bozeman, Butte, Dillon, Frenchtown, Hamilton, Missoula, and Seeley Lake is currently UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS. State and local health officials recommend that people with respiratory or heart disease, the elderly, and children should avoid prolonged exertion; everyone else should limit prolonged exertion.
- The high-pressure system which has been in place for the past several days is breaking down. Westerly flow will take over, so smoke from California will stay south. It’s possible that southern and southwestern Montana will continue to have heavier smoke, but locations further north may see less air quality impacts. Isolated thunderstorms are expected this evening and Tuesday evening.
According to the DEQ, "Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups" means increasing likelihood of respiratory symptoms in sensitive individuals, aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in people with cardiopulmonary disease, older adults, and people of lower socio-economic status (SES). People with heart or lung disease, older adults, children, and people of lower SES should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.
The "Moderate" category means that respiratory symptoms are possible in unusually sensitive individuals, possible aggravation of heart or lung disease in people with cardiopulmonary disease and older adults. Unusually sensitive people should consider reducing prolonged or heavy exertion.