Unhealthy air quality in Missoula, Frenchtown


MISSOULA, Mont. - An update from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality lists conditions in Libby, the Flathead and Bitterroot valleys and in Bozeman as unhealthy for sensitive groups.

In Missoula and Frenchtown, the air quality is even worse. Spending longer than 8 hours outside is considered very unhealthy, which means there's a significant risk of respiratory effects in the general population.

It wasn't hard to find people outside in Missoula on Saturday. One thing the smoke has done is blocked the sun from reaching the valley floor, keeping things a little cooler.

People NBC Montana talked with say, they're definitely feeling the effects of the bad air.

"It's just, you can feel it in your throat but I can't imagine it's very healthy," said Missoula resident Matt Dillon.

"I've been experiencing headaches for the last couple of days since the smokes come in," said Missoula resident Mercedes Becker.

"I usually end up with a sinus infection and I have a little one-and-a-half-year-old who will definitely get some respiratory stuff," said another Missoula resident Becky Douglas.

Air quality monitors say conditions will likely worsen Saturday night before they get better.


The following is a Press Release from Sarah Coefield, Air Quality Specialist with the Missoula City-County Health Department:

Smoke from Washington wildfires settled into our region Friday afternoon, and it hasn't budged since. Air quality rapidly deteriorated throughout the county, particularly in Frenchtown and Missoula. Air quality in both Frenchtown and Missoula became very unhealthy overnight, but has improved to unhealthy for short term exposure (1-8 hours) in Missoula this morning and unhealthy for sensitive groups in Frenchtown. Short term exposure in Missoula may also improve to Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups later this morning.

Cumulative, or long term exposure (generally 8 to 24 hours) to the smoke in Frenchtown and Missoula is currently very unhealthy. Seeley Lake also has its fair share of smoke. Short term conditions are currently unhealthy or sensitive groups. Long term exposure in Seeley Lake is currently Unhealthy.

We aren't being hit with as many of the chemicals in the smoke this morning, which is why it doesn't smell as bad out there as it did last night. However, the particulate pollution is still very much present, and the particulates are the greater health threat in smoke. Even though the air smells better and your eyes might not be stinging, it is still important to protect your health from the amount of smoke in the air.

Conditions have been slowly improving since midnight, and we might get some relief from the smoke this afternoon. The strong breezes in the afternoon forecast may help temporarily scour the valley floors free of smoke. Also, the sun is being slightly more successful at penetrating the smoke this morning, so we may see more of a heat out as the day wears on, and the smoke might lift up out of our breathing space.

However, there is still a lot of smoke pouring off the Carlton Complex in Washington, and we will likely continue to see smoke from those and other fires in our region in the coming days. Any smoke left in the area this afternoon will likely settle down into the valleys overnight and further degrade air quality.

Our westerly prevailing winds aren't going to do us any favors this weekend. There are fires in Canada and Washington to the northwest, Oregon to the west, and Idaho to the southwest. Smoky days may be here to stay for the near future.