Wildfire smoke unhealthy for some

Rays of sunlight penetrate the dense cloud of smoke from the Pine Ridge Fire on Thursday.

Children younger than 8, the elderly, and people with chronic lung or heart conditions may be finding it particularly hard to breathe this summer.

Wildfires around the state, including the Pine Ridge Fire near De Beque, are spewing smoke full of ash, soot and small, sometimes carcinogenic particles into the air. Grand Junction’s air quality became “unhealthy for sensitive groups” last Thursday in the fine particles category, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. The very old, the very young and pregnant women are counted as sensitive groups, as well as people with asthma, emphysema, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, smoke allergies or cardiovascular disease.

Coughing, sore throat, trouble breathing, runny or irritated eyes or nose, and aggravation of pre-existing pulmonary conditions can result from breathing smoky air, according to the state health department. Even otherwise healthy people should avoid rigorous exercise because heavy breathing in smoky conditions can put a strain on the lungs, according to Ed Brotsky, air quality specialist for the Mesa County Health Department.

“Especially with the warm weather, people tend to have windows open and swamp cooler on, pulling particulates into the house,” Brotsky said.

People with cardiovascular conditions are at risk because smoke is full of fine particles. Those particles can penetrate the lungs and into the bloodstream, putting a strain on the cardiovascular system, according to Brotsky.

Brotsky said a dust and particle monitor in central Grand Junction was still reading “pretty low” late last week. The monitor picks up smoke but also standard dust and exhaust from cars and lawn mowers.

National Weather Service maps show low but measurable concentrations of smoke over Mesa County. Joe Ramey, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction, said more hot and dry weather is on the way this week, although some rain may appear as soon as Thursday thanks to a disturbance predicted to move off the Gulf of Mexico.

“With everything tinder dry in Colorado and across the desert Southwest, any fire starts are still highly possible,” Ramey said.


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