Air Quality in Washington County

Washington County Department of Health and Human Services is working with a variety of partners to improve the air quality in our community. Of specific concern is an increase in fine particulates called PM2.5, which can pose serious health concerns. There are many factors contributing to particulate emissions, including things that are out of our control like geography and weather, but Washington County residents can help improve our air quality!

An Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) air quality monitoring site shows a pattern common to other communities with higher particulate pollution — levels increase when people come home in the evening and use their wood stoves and fireplaces.

The primary source of PM2.5 pollution is residential wood burning in wood stoves and fireplaces. Additional sources include residential open burning, prescribed forest burning, road and construction dust, cars and trucks, and industrial boilers.

“Wood smoke can cause short-term and long-term health problems,” says Washington County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Christina Baumann. “The fine particles released into the air by burning wood are so small that they can be inhaled deep into the lungs. Studies have shown a link between high levels of fine particles in the air and increases in respiratory symptoms, asthma attacks, bronchitis and cardiac events.”

The months of highest risk are November through February, when we are more likely to have air inversions. This is when cold air close to the ground is trapped by a layer of warmer air. As the inversion continues, air becomes stagnant and pollution becomes trapped close to the ground.

Washington County is asking residents to limit recreational or unnecessary wood and yard debris burning when the Air Quality Index is between 51-94. We are asking that you refrain from burning when the level is 95 and above. According to Dr. Baumann, “Some people, especially children and individuals with lung or heart disease, are more sensitive to particulate air pollution. By decreasing the amount of wood smoke released during the winter months, we can help protect the health of our community.”

If a wood stove or fireplace is your only source of heat, we are not asking you not to burn wood. However, please burn only dry, seasoned wood, and be sure to maintain a hot fire. For more information on the safest, cleanest and most efficient way to burn wood, visit www.epa.gov/burnwise.

Did you know that wood stoves manufactured before 1990 are inefficient? They waste firewood, pollute the air in your neighborhood and home, and create dust inside your home. If you smell smoke in the house, notice smoke coming from your chimney, experience watery eyes and a stuffy nose when you use the wood stove, or constantly have to feed the stove with wood, then it may be time to consider replacing your wood stove.

There are three primary ways to stay informed about the air quality in our community:

  • Sign up at www.publicalerts.org to receive notifications by text, email or phone about air quality advisories and other important and timely health and safety news.
  • Follow Washington County’s Facebook and Twitter pages and watch for posts there.
  • Visit www.co.washington.or.us/air for much more information on this issue, as well as the daily air quality forecast.