Wildfire smoke affects air quality. Here’s how you can stay safe

Published: Aug. 23, 2023 at 10:25 PM CDT
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LAKE CHARLES, La. (KPLC) - As fires plague much of Southwest Louisiana, smoke fills the skies of surrounding towns. The hazy skies bring a lower air quality, putting some residents at risk.

“Okay, so what we have is what we call the air quality index, and it is color-coded,” said Gregory Langley with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

Orange, which Langley said the Lake Charles area is currently in, means that the air may be unhealthy for sensitive groups.

“People that have COPD or asthma, or some other breathing issue should avoid any outdoor activities. Just stay outside in the air conditioning if they possibly can,” Langley said.

Respiratory symptoms may become worse after spending time outside. You may experience coughing, wheezing or difficulty breathing.

“People who have healthy breathing, people who don’t have any respiratory issues, they can usually work outside during the orange code. When it gets to red is when they should take precaution,” Langley said.

Langley said there is one color after red, which is purple, but the state of Louisiana has never seen an air quality level that low.

“We’re going to be monitoring the air quality. We have monitors all around Lake Charles, and we’re looking at what the PM is over there. Again, the weather is a really decisive factor in a situation like this,” he said.

As smoke travels through the air, Langley tells us it releases something called particulate matter, or PM, 2.5 which can be an irritant to people’s lungs. And with little rain and wind, irritants are more likely to remain in the air.

“That’s just produced when a substance burns and some particular part of it becomes ash and is lifted in the smoke,” he said.

If you have breathing problems and must be outside for longer stretches of time, Langley advises to wear an N95 mask to avoid severe flare-ups.

“But everyone should make sure they observe the burn ban. It’s just not safe to have an open fire outside. Don’t burn anything,” Langley said,

All of Louisiana remains under a burn ban. If you or someone you know has a respiratory illness, make sure you are taking the necessary precautions to stay safe during this time.

You can find air quality data for your area HERE.