County urges bikers to use TriMet as wildfire smoke fills Portland streets (updated)

County urges bikers to use TriMet as wildfire smoke fills Portland streets (updated)

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This is what downtown #pdx looks like from about 1/2 mile away. #thisisclimatechange #pdxtst

— Leslie Carlson (@QueenLeslie1982) August 22, 2015

Update 9:25 a.m.: With Portland’s air quality steadily improving, Southeast Sunday Parkways is on. Here’s the PBOT statement:

Given current information and data from the last 12 hours, the City plans to move forward with the Sunday Parkways event but urges all Portlanders to use their best judgement and caution when making their decision about participating in activities outdoors throughout the day, particularly individuals with regular respiratory concerns (i.e. small children, the elderly, chronic asthma sufferers).

As of 8 a.m. Sunday, the state DEQ’s Southeast Portland station reported that air quality had improved to “moderate” on a one-hour scale but remained “unhealthy” when the last 24 hours were taken into account. The National Weather Service says the DEQ’s “air quality alert” remains in effect until 5 p.m.

air quality chart

Image of the local air quality trend released Sunday morning by the Portland Bureau of Transportation.

Saturday evening’s post follows.

Will tomorrow be the first Sunday Parkways postponed on account of global climate change? It could happen.

Some of Portland’s streets are eerily empty tonight as the massive wildfires east of the Cascades send their smoke west into the city.

The yellowish haze was so bad by Saturday afternoon that Multnomah County urged people to use TriMet rather than biking or “at the very least, drink more H2O.”

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Bike riders: consider taking @trimet today. Air quality is unhealthy for all. At the very least, drink more H2O.

— Multnomah County, OR (@multco) August 22, 2015

It’s not an idle concern. Until I read Portland State University student Alex Bigazzi’s award-winning research into pollution inhalation among bike users, it had never occurred to me that people biking are at more risk from dirty air than people driving, because they’re breathing harder and ingesting more particulates per second.

Ordinarily, the other health benefits of biking outweigh the harm from increased pollution. But an especially bad day like today may be one of the rare days when biking is not good for your health.

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Here is some information and advice released at 6 p.m. Saturday from the state Department of Environmental Quality:

Conditions will likely remain very poor overnight, possibly becoming worse, until Sunday afternoon, when winds are expected to shift and blow the smoke out of the region. The wildfire smoke may increase the risk of illness, especially for older adults, young children, and people with asthma, respiratory, or heart conditions.

Should smoke occur, residents can take the following precautions to avoid breathing problems or other symptoms from smoke:

– Be aware of smoke concentrations in your area and avoid the places with highest concentrations.

– You can avoid smoke by staying indoors, closing all windows and doors and using an air filter that removes very fine particulate matter.
Avoid strenuous outdoor activity in smoky conditions.

– If you have heart disease, asthma or other lung disease, or are over 65 years of age, you have a higher risk of illness from wildfire smoke. Small children and pregnant women are also at increased risk. People in any of these groups might consider leaving the area until air quality improves.

– People suffering from asthma or other respiratory problems should follow their breathing management plans or contact their healthcare providers. Remember, local smoke levels can rise and fall rapidly, depending on weather factors including wind direction. People can conduct a visual assessment of smoke levels to quickly get a sense of air quality levels and take precautions. If people have additional concerns, they should contact the nearest regional or local public health agency for the latest in health conditions from smoke. Visit the Oregon Smoke Blog for more information regarding active fires and air quality, along with tools to help people assess smoke levels in their area. Check out the Air Quality Index for current conditions.

This is especially unpleasant timing because tomorrow is Southeast Portland Sunday Parkways from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. We’ve asked city officials to let us know if there are any changes of plans or precautions related to smoke, and will update here as we know.

Want to know the most upsetting part of today’s weather, and about the forest fires that have become standard features of summer in the West? Airborne soot itself is one of the atmosphere’s most powerful greenhouse agents.

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Went on a bike ride in the gorge today, smoke from wildfires was so thick you could barely see the river :[

A photo posted by Bridget Underwood (@bridgitiri) on

Correction 9:15 a.m.: I’ve updated the earlier headline in this post to avoid overstating the impact on Portland traffic Saturday; we’ve heard different perspectives on this.

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