Protect Yourself from Wildfire Smoke

The 2015 wildfire season in the Pacific Northwest is the worst yet. Hundreds of fires are burning in Washington, Idaho, Montana, northern California, Oregon and British Columbia. In Washington, it's the largest wildfire complex in state history.

Smoke is much worse this year because of the huge size of the wildfires and an inversion layer that is preventing the smoke from dissipating. Choking smoke has blanketed much of Central and Eastern Washington and some days has even traveled west across the Cascade Mountains. The smoke stings the eyes and throat and causes coughing, runny nose, and headache. These symptoms may happen sooner for children and older adults, those with heart or lung disease, and outdoor workers. People are concerned.

Last year we created a downloadable fact sheet, How to Protect Yourself From Wildfire Smoke with information about exposure to smoke and what to do.

These two websites give current information about smoke and air quality in Washington:

Washington Smoke Information
State air quality map, Washington Department of Ecology

As I write in late August, rain is forecast. Let's hope rain will slow the wildfires, help clear the smoke, and give firefighters and community members a chance to catch their breath.
-- Marilyn Hair

Center participates in National Conference of State Legislators Summit

Center for Ecogenetics & Environmental Health (CEEH) members and staff participated in the Environmental Health Sciences (EHS) Pre-Conference Session of the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) Summit on August 3rd at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. NCSL is a bipartisan public-policy organization. About 5,000 state lawmakers and staffers attended, including more than 70 Washington legislators.

Those who attended included from CEEH included Center members Terry Kavanagh, Gretchen Onstad, Kelly Edwards, and Rose James, as well as UW faculty Steve Gilbert, and Clarita Lefthand-Begay, and CEEH staff members Liz Guzy and Marilyn Hair. State legislators from California, Montana, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Arkansas, New York, and Maryland, among others, and a legislator and staff from Western Australia attended the EHS Pre-Conference Session. The American Chemical Council (ACC) and Scott's MiracleGro were also represented.

Dr. Onstad participated on a panel that addressed Water and Health: Quality and Quantity. Other panelists were Professor David Osterberg of the University of Iowa Environmental Health Sciences Research Center, Rep. Gary Scherer of Ohio, Assemblyman Adam Gray from California, and Ann Aquillo, Vice-President of Scotts Miracle-Gro. Dr. Lefthand-Begay served on a panel focused on Environmental Justice, along with Robin Fuchs-Young from the NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences Center at Texas A&M University, Johnnye Lewis from the University of New Mexico, and Elena Craft of the Environmental Defense Fund. A third panel presentation addressed Hydraulic Fracturing and Environmental Health.

Much of the session was devoted to audience interaction. Legislators were concerned about environmental health issues in their districts, and the concerns of their constituents, among them air quality; health effects of living near major roadways; silica sand mining in Wisconsin, industry-sponsored research on the health effects of fracking in North Dakota, toxic algal blooms from fertilizer runoff in the midwest, and increasing water capacity in central California's agricultural region, in the face of a continuing drought. The legislators were well informed and almost universally sympathetic to protecting public health.

Roundtable discussions were held over box lunches on five topics: Environmental Public Health Labs, PCBs in Schools, US-Mexico Border Environmental Health Concerns, Mining and Health, and Toxics and Chemicals.

Drs. Terry Kavanagh and Steve Gilbert
I joined the Toxics and Chemical discussion, facilitated by Terry Kavanagh. Three staff from the American Chemical Council, an industry group, joined the table. A dialog ensued between ACC representatives and EHS researchers regarding disclosing the components of products such as flame retardants and hydrofracking fluid. The ACC spoke up for propriety rights of industry, while the toxicologists defended the public's right to know what they're being exposed to. The ACC's defense of propriety rights was based on economics; they said information needs to be protected to keep others from using trade secrets and suggested we should wait and see what happens to people who live and work near fracking sites. Steve Gilbert shot back, "Who's going to be in that study?" and "We need to protect children from these chemicals so they can grow up to their full potential." The discussion was civil and respectful and it was good to have different perspectives talking to each other. But from a public health perspective, let's try it, wait and see, and trade secrets aren't good enough for protecting people's health.

The goal of the EHS workshop was to open a dialog between leading environmental health sciences researchers and outreach directors, and staff legislators and staff, with the intent to increase the level of scientific input into policy development and decisions. The workshop was supported by a grant from NIEHS, Dr. Robin Fuchs-Young, Principal Investigator.
--Marilyn Hair