Local air quality worsens Monday in Routt County | SteamboatToday.com

Local air quality worsens Monday in Routt County

The slopes at Steamboat Resort were hard to see from downtown Monday afternoon as smoke from the Morgan Creek Fire and other nearby fires blanketed the city for most of the day. (Photo by John F. Russell)

From Saturday through early Monday afternoon, seven patients visited the UCHealth Urgent Care in Steamboat Springs for asthma attacks, acute asthma exacerbation or upper respiratory problems likely brought on by the worsening of local air quality with wildfires now burning at both ends of Routt County.

Physician Assistant Sue Golden at Urgent Care said many of those patients, age 12 to 65, were visitors to the area who stayed outside for many hours because they were camping. Golden recommended that anyone with a history of asthma, chronic lung disease or reactive airway disease to make sure they have current inhalers available, continue to take their respiratory-related preventative medications and exercise indoors.

The Urgent Care staff also saw an increase of additional patients with such symptoms as eye irritation, runny nose, dry scratchy throats and respiratory issues, Golden said.

Longtime City Market pharmacist Susan Seitz said the pharmacy staff talked with a “more than usual” number of visitors and residents experiencing dry and irritated eyes during this past weekend.

The online PurpleAir.com real-time air quality monitor at North Routt Community Charter School registered 232 PM 2.5, or fine particulate matter, around 11 a.m. Monday, which landed in the blood-red elevated zone on the color-coded system. One week earlier, the levels registered in the acceptable yellow range at 56 PM 2.5.

The Monday morning high reading in Clark falls in the PurpleAir monitoring zone of 201 to 300, which means “Health alert: where everyone may experience more serious health effects if they are exposed for 24 hours,” according to the site. The tiny particles of air pollution reduce visibility and cause the air to appear hazy when levels are elevated.

“These fine particles can get deep into lungs, and some may even get into the bloodstream,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency website. “Exposure to these particles can affect a person’s lungs and heart.”

Since the start of the Morgan Creek Fire in North Routt, air-quality monitors in Routt County have ranged from the orange zone, which is a warning to individuals with sensitive health, to the red zone, where everyone will begin to experience health effects. At 11 a.m. Monday, the three monitors near downtown Steamboat Springs landed in the red zone at 172, 173 and 163 PM 2.5.

According PurpleAir.com, air-quality level of 151 to 200 means, “Everyone may begin to experience health effects if they are exposed for 24 hours; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects.”

Routt County Environmental Health Director Scott Cowman said some of the smoke entering Routt County might also be coming from other fires in Western states. He said the monitors provide local leaders and citizens the tools needed to make more informed health decisions. Changing winds and weather conditions cause air quality to vary.

Cowman advises residents to review the resources at the Environmental Health Air Quality website at http://www.co.routt.co.us/160/Air-Quality.

Routt County now is home to 10 active PurpleAir monitors after the addition on Friday of a monitor at Thunderhead Lift at 9,000 feet elevation at Steamboat Resort. It registered 144 PM 2.5 at 11 a.m. Monday. The monitor happened to come online the same day as the Morgan Creek Fire started. Another monitor recently came online in the Dakota Ridge neighborhood southwest of Steamboat, and that monitor showed 163 PM 2.5 at 11 a.m. Monday.

The general rule of thumb is that the worse the air quality, the shorter the amount of time residents should spend outdoors, said Dr. Todd Bull, director of the Center for Lungs and Breathing at the UCHealth Pulmonary Vascular Disease Clinic at the Anschutz Medical Campus.

As little as one hour of exposure for people with breathing and heart health conditions, for small children with lungs that are growing and for elderly individuals whose lungs decrease in function with age can be enough to cause acute health problems, Bull explained.

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