Smoky air from wildfires poses health concerns | Western Colorado
When stepping outside and looking east during the past few days, it’s easy to see that it hasn’t been a typical week in the Grand Valley.
Hazy skies and smoky air from fires surrounding the area obstruct usually clear views of the Bookcliffs and Grand Mesa. But the poor air quality does more than make the area a little less scenic for a few days.
Grand Junction’s air quality was among the worst in the state on Thursday and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued an air quality health advisory until 9 a.m. today for much of western Colorado.
Thursday’s air quality index, as reported by organizations such as Air Now and Purple Air, rated the Grand Valley’s quality between moderate and unhealthy for sensitive groups throughout the day.
While the weather today could push some of the smoke and haze out of the area — the National Weather Service forecast a 20 percent chance of rain — it could return as fires continue to burn throughout Colorado and the surrounding states.
“The source is still there,” said Scott Stearns, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “We still have smoke in the area. Maybe not right away, but it could move back into the area.”
The continually growing Cache Creek Fire in Garfield County is the closest to the Grand Valley, but the state’s health department cited fires throughout western Colorado and others in states such as Idaho, Wyoming, Utah and Nevada as causes for the lower air quality.
The air quality in the Grand Valley ranked at the bottom of the state Thursday morning. It improved in the early afternoon and slightly worsened late in the day, as was the case in other parts of the state.
While the air quality never reached dangerous levels, it did reach spots that could negatively affect the elderly, children and those with heart and respiratory issues.
Mesa County Public Health recommended that the elderly stay indoors and that parents keep children from getting too much exercise outside during these conditions.
Those with asthma should make sure they have medication close by and have an action plan in place. Anyone who experiences shortness of breath or unusual fatigue should contact their doctor.
“You know yourself the best,” said Katie Nelson, spokeswoman for Mesa County Public Health. “If you look outside and can’t see five miles out, it’s unhealthy in the area.”
Nelson said many might seek to wear masks outside, but most masks are ineffective against the small air particles that can cause problems.
A respirator would likely be effective, she said, but those are expensive and harder to find than sawdust masks and surgical masks that people would most likely seek from area stores.
Some of the large health care providers have not yet seen an uptick in visits as a result of the worsened air quality.
St. Mary’s Medical Center reported several calls to its Lung and Sleep Center, but none that required a visit.
The emergency department has not received any additional patients because of the poor air quality.
Community Hospital also reported that it had not seen an increase in visits in relation to the air quality.
Grand Junction’s Veterans Affairs Medical Center also hasn’t seen any increase in local veterans experiencing respiratory issues.
However, as of Wednesday, Veterans Affairs did accept three patients from the Veterans State Nursing Home in Rifle because of respiratory issues.
The Veterans Affair’s clinical team met Thursday about the possible transfer of more veteran patients from the state nursing home and developed a plan to care for a rise in patients from that area.