Be careful in smokey conditions, professors say

Outdoor activity is discouraged when pollutants like smoke are prevalent in North Portland air

By Dora Totoian | September 5, 2017 8:18pm

Smoke from regional wildfires cloud Portland, blocking views from The Bluff.
by Jeffrey Braccia / The Beacon

Wildfires burning in southern Oregon, Idaho and British Columbia are the cause of the smoke seen on The Bluff the last few days. Students are cautioned to avoid outdoor exercise until the air quality index (AQI) decreases to normal levels, Steven Kolmes, chair of the environmental studies department, said.  

Kolmes said a variety of factors contributed to the fires, including dead trees in some areas and a shift in climate that has intensified summer droughts. Strong winds and weather conditions carried the smoke from surrounding blazes into the Portland area. 

On Tuesday, the air quality index (AQI) reached 152 particles, putting Portland’s air in the Environmental Protection Agency’s “unhealthy” category. The AQI is a measure that assesses the ozone and various pollutants in the air, Kolmes explained. Typically, any level below 50 is considered healthy in the United States. He also noted that small air particles are especially problematic.  

“Those (particles) are so tiny that they actually go deep into our lungs… and enter our bloodstream,” Kolmes said. 

He cautioned students to check the AQI daily on if there appears to be smoke in the area. He also advised that if the AQI is over 100, it may be in students’ best interest to skip an outdoor workout that day. 

Junior biology major Nora Hendricks is training for the Portland Marathon and averages about 30 miles per week running outside. On Thursday, she opted to run in the gym even though she prefers running outdoors. 

“The relationship with the heat and the smoke [is] making it more unpleasant to run outside,” Hendricks said. 

Riley Patterson, a junior nursing major, is also training for the Portland Marathon and runs outside five or six times per week. She thinks the smoke may be slowing her down but has noticed the smoke’s effects more directly with her running companion, her dog. 

“She seems to be showing more signs of being affected by it than me,” Patterson said. “She’s been running slower and has lower energy and has kind of been coughing.” 

Kolmes reiterated that being aware of the AQI is crucial to staying healthy. 

“If the air outside looks bad, they should grab their phone, and they should look up Portland AQI,” Kolmes said. “They should consider taking a brief hiatus on things like running and biking and be kind to their body for a little while.”