Tuesday, May 18, 2021
May 18, 2021

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Clark County’s air quality is slowly improving

PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center doctor urges caution with smoky conditions

By , Columbian staff writer
2 Photos
Thick wildfire smoke is seen overhead as letter carrier Jon Weinberg works in downtown Vancouver. Smoke levels continue to hover in the hazardous air quality range.
Thick wildfire smoke is seen overhead as letter carrier Jon Weinberg works in downtown Vancouver. Smoke levels continue to hover in the hazardous air quality range. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

As a pulmonologist at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, Dr. Bhanu Patibandla sees firsthand what smoky air can do to people.

Over the past week, as hazardous air conditions have hovered over Clark County, Patibandla said the hospital is starting to see the effects from the smoke. Patients with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, are experiencing flare-ups of their conditions.

“We have seen an increased volume of patients in our pulmonary clinic,” said Patibandla, who is also a medical intensive care unit director at the hospital.

Around 6:45 a.m. Thursday, Vancouver’s air quality was at 395, still in the hazardous range. Yacolt’s air quality was at 189, in the unhealthy range. The National Weather Service has issued a dense fog advisory and an air quality alert through noon.

On Tuesday, the Washington Department of Ecology released a report saying the state’s recent poor air has been the most prolonged period of hazardous air since 2006.

Smoke impacts

• Evergreen Public Schools has canceled all in-person learning, bus transportation and other services at school locations today due to poor air quality. Meals will be available only at Heritage High School from 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Essential staff only report to buildings. Remote learning continues as scheduled for students and staff from off site.
• Vancouver Public Schools has also closed all school facilities to the public today. In-person support and grab-and-go meal service is canceled. Contact a Family-Community Resource coordinator for help with food or other basic needs. Remote instruction will continue for students. Technical support will be available at 360-313-5400 or student.support@vansd.org.
It is anticipated that the district will return to regular operation with in-person support and grab-and-go meals on Friday.
• Check your local air quality here: www.airnow.gov/?city=Vancouver&state=WA&country=USA

Clark County and the Columbia River Gorge have experienced the most hazardous air quality in the state.

Patibandla said smoke can also factor into the mental health of people with COPD or asthma.

“Not everyone with COPD or asthma behave the same,” Patibandla said. “Some of them are particularly sensitive to smoke or air pollution and for those subset of patients, these times with wildfires and air pollution can be very anxiety-provoking.”

Hazardous air can impact anyone, regardless of whether they have a health condition, Patibandla said. He also explained there isn’t necessarily a time threshold of exposure to hazardous air and when someone will begin to experience symptoms.

People without underlying health conditions can still experience eye, throat, skin and nose irritation from hazardous air. Patibandla said people should make sure windows and doors are closed to protect the air inside their homes. Air purifiers can also be helpful.

“The best thing when we know the air quality is not good is to try to stay indoors as much as possible,” Patibandla said.

Clark County’s air quality has improved throughout the week. On Sunday, Vancouver’s small particulate (PM 2.5) pollution air quality settled around 635, which went beyond the index used to track air quality.

Air quality is rated as good between 0 to 50, moderate from 51 to 100, unhealthy for sensitive groups from 101-150, unhealthy for everyone from 151 to 200 and very unhealthy for everyone from 201 to 300. Readings from 301-500 are considered hazardous and readings above 500 are considered “beyond index.”

Relief is expected to arrive Friday morning, when a weather system is supposed to clear out most of Southwest Washington’s hovering smoke and return the area to much better air quality conditions.