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American Lung Association gives state lower marks for particulate pollution

North Dakota received failing grades for air quality from the American Lung Association. According to data collected by the association from 2013-15, only two of the nine counties in North Dakota that have air quality monitors that provide data t...

Wildfires are believed to be responsible for the short-term spike in particulates in the air, which caused the state to receive a lower air quality rating from the American Lung Association for 2013-15. iStock Photo
Wildfires are believed to be responsible for the short-term spike in particulates in the air, which caused the state to receive a lower air quality rating from the American Lung Association for 2013-15. iStock Photo

North Dakota received failing grades for air quality from the American Lung Association.

According to data collected by the association from 2013-15, only two of the nine counties in North Dakota that have air quality monitors that provide data to the state and federal government, Billings and Cass, received a "C" passing grade for particulate pollution, according to a report released Wednesday. Burke, Dunn and Williams counties earned an "F" grade and Burleigh, McKenzie, Mercer and Oliver counties received a "D" rating for particulate pollution.

Seven of these counties earned an "A" rating as far as ozone pollution for this same time period, according to a press release. Dunn and Oliver counties both earned a "B" grade for ozone pollution.

North Dakota normally earns passing or higher marks in the annual American Lung Association State of the Air Report, but the smoke from wildfires in the area during this time period caused short-term spikes in particulate pollution, according to the release. There is no monitor collecting data in Stark County, according to the report.

"While smoke from wildfires is usually a short-term air quality problem, it can also be a very serious one, especially for those living with lung disease," said Robert Moffitt, communications director for the American Lung Association in North Dakota, according to the release. "Also, it is important to remember that climate scientists warn that we are likely to see even more wildfire smoke, as well as more severe heat, storms, and longer allergy and tick seasons. Unless we make some changes, poor grades for air quality could become the norm for North Dakota."

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Chuck Hyatt, the ambient air quality monitoring program manager for the North Dakota Department of Health, said, in general, North Dakota has very clean air. During the first week of July 2015, there was a string of Canadian wildfires, so the smoke blew down into North Dakota airspace, Hyatt said. This smoke caused the particulate levels in the air to be higher and the state to receive lower ratings than normal.

"I don't know what the prognosis is for this year, but it's always good to be prepared just in case we do have smoke that enters the area, and we can let people know that have health concerns that there are precautions that they can take," Hyatt said. "We try to give some hints on our website, but we also want to make it clear that the best place to talk about health concerns is with a family physician."

Now that wildfire season is around the corner, Hyatt recommended residents with lung disease or other ailments that may be affected by particulates to:

· Check the North Dakota Department of Health's website to track changing air quality conditions in different parts of the state;

· Stay inside and reduce time spent in the outdoors if the air quality conditions deteriorate;

· Avoid jogging or other outdoor activities;

· If it is warm and you need to have the air conditioning on, set your system to "recirculate" to avoid bringing in outside air;

· If you have to go outside, the NDDoH recommends a NIOSH N95 mask, which removes 95 percent of particulates from the air. These masks can be found at most hardware stores or home centers;

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· Though vehicles are not a recommended place for sheltering, turn the car's system onto "recirculate" to keep out the outside air;

· Find a friend, family member or neighbor's house if your air conditioning does not work on hot days.

Since July 2015, Hyatt said he has not seen as high of particulate levels. In 2016, there were some wildfires in Canada as well, but the smoke from the fires stayed high enough in the atmosphere that it did not affect ground level air quality to the same degree, he said.

"We'll be sure to, as the wildfire season progresses this year, let people know when and if ... the particulate levels do get higher," Hyatt said.

However, the state meets all federal ambient air quality standards, he said. Additionally, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management , North Dakota ranks third in the nation among all 50 states and the District of Columbia in overall air quality, based on population-weighted design values from 2013-15. Bismarck ranked fourth and Fargo tied for 19th in the top 25 cleanest U.S. cities regarding year-round particle pollution during 2013-15. McKenzie County ranked second and Billings County tied for 14th in the top 24 cleanest counties for year-round particle pollution during the same time period. Burleigh County tied for 17th and Oliver County tied for 20th in the same category.

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