San Juan islanders can breathe easier knowing the state is investigating local air quality.
Staff at the Washington state Department of Ecology are temporarily measuring air pollution in the San Juans, instead of relying on results tracked outside the county.
A temporary air quality monitor was installed on Monday, Jan. 7, in Friday Harbor to measure the local pollution for about four months.
Air is sometimes filled with tiny particles that can cause poor health when inhaled. Until now, there was no way to measure just how fresh island air really is.
The state manages roughly 100 air quality monitors in about 80 locations, while seven clean air agencies control the rest. To measure air pollution in the San Juans, researchers rely on the closest device to the islands, roughly 25 miles away in Anacortes.
Staff will compare local results to that monitor and others nearby. When mainland devices report high pollutants, authorities will know if the San Juans are experiencing the same health risks. If the results don’t match, however, there are no plans to install a permanent local device.
The temporary measuring equipment will be located in a trailer next to the county elections office off of Second Street in Friday Harbor until about May. Monitors measure the air’s particulate matter, which is believed to pose the largest health risks.
“When you get particulate matter that comes from wildfires or home heating or diesel combustion … then those little particles can get into your lungs,” said Ty Keltner, with the Department of Ecology’s Bellingham office. “That affects the way people breathe, and that can lead to heart and lung problems.”
Solid particles, like dust, soot and smoke, can be seen in the air, while others are microscopic. When wildfires occur on the mainland, wind can blow smoky air to the islands like last summer. In late August 2018, locals were advised to stay indoors because both the islands’ air was visibly smoky and Anacortes’ monitors registered high health risks.
View the results of the local air quality monitor, in real time, at https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/enviwa.