Some burning eyes, a raspy throat.
Puget Sounders, you’ll manage just fine to get through all that British Columbia wildfire smoke that’s enveloped our region.
As of Friday, Day 4 of headlines such as, “Seattle’s air quality is worse than Beijing, Kolkata,” this was the case:
No increase in asthma-related admission to 19 hospital emergency rooms surveyed by Public Health – Seattle-King County. Asthma patients are among the first to feel the effects of polluted air.
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And, says Susan Gregg, spokeswoman for Harborview Medical Center, “We haven’t seen an influx of patients coming in due to air-quality issues.”
“For lots of people, it’ll be a temporary irritant,” says Dr. Jeff Duchin, health officer for Public Health here.
It’s not like panicked Seattleites are swarming hardware stores to buy a $2 paper respirator.
“I’ve probably had three or four customers ask for them,” says Willow Yoder, manager of the Greenwood True Value. “They were people doing some running.”
Still, plenty of the respirators are in stock, she says.
This is not to minimize the effects of all that smoke coming down from more than 1.2 million acres of forest, bush and grassland that have been torched, the second-worst B.C. fire season in recorded history in terms of land destroyed.
One in 12 people in this country suffers from asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Anecdotally,” says James Apa, spokesman for Public Health – Seattle & King County, Medic One has reported in recent days its paramedics “stabilizing at home” people with asthma symptoms. And patients with emphysema have ended up in the hospital, he says.
Duchin also says wildfire smoke can particularly affect those with lung and heart disease as well as infants and children.
And asthma specialist Dr. Matthew Altman, an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Medicine, says he’s been hearing from some of his 100 patients.
“They’re reporting an aggravation of symptoms, shortness of breath, cough,” he says.
We can expect a big spike in the purchase of asthma prescription drugs, according to a British Columbia study published in 2013. It studied effects of wildfires in that province from 2003 to 2010.
The study shows a direct correlation between increased particulates in the air from wildfires to spikes in people getting Salbutamol, a drug for treating asthma.
Another study, a recent one published in May by researchers from Colorado State University, does give you pause — a great, big pause — about just how much havoc wildfires cause with asthmatics and others with respiratory problems.
It studied hospital admissions in this state for such conditions from July to October in 2012, during our massive wildfires in Eastern Washington.
If the numbers from that study are taken to their logical conclusion, we will see a 35 percent increase in hospital admissions due to respiratory problems this week.
You can read the math in the research paper — but better have that degree in environmental studies handy.
Yes, that seems to contradict the report from Harborview about no increase in asthma admissions.
Welcome to data research.
Sheryl Magzamen, assistant professor of epidemiology at Colorado State and one of the paper’s authors, says that the study covered one wildfire season and not just one event. She fully expects a spike in hospital admissions.
“We’ll see and we’ll talk again after the 2017 data,” she says.
Finally, about those headlines saying Seattle’s air quality this week is worse than Beijing’s.
“That might be on a given day,” says Ranil Dhammapala, an atmospheric scientist with the state’s Department of Ecology.
More common, he says, is that China’s capital is cough city.
Here’s a more typical headline, “Sandstorm pushes Beijing smog off pollution charts.”
You want bad air, here is bad air:
At dinnertime on Friday, on a site run by the World Air Quality Index, Seattle came in with a rating of 131, “unhealthy.” The index is a yardstick; the higher the number, the worse things are. “Good” is 0 to 50; “moderate” is 50 to 100.
Compare our 131 with an “electrochemical factory, Jining, China,” at 941.
Or Gifu, Japan, at 305. Or Selcuklu, Turkey, at 890. Or Monclova, Mexico, at 869.
Dr. Jeff Duchin, the county’s health guy, says about those air-quality numbers and wildfires: “Because of global warming, I’m sorry to say we’re going to see a worldwide increase in extreme heat events.”