The Source Weekly - Bend
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Hazy Skies

Unhealthy air quality hampers recreation and school sports

Chris Miller Aug 22, 2018 14:00 PM
Wyatt Gaines

Hazy beers may be the new craze, but hazy skies are still as unwelcome as an ex at your wedding.

Although this summer is so far nowhere nearly as smoky as last year, the region is still experiencing hazy days where the sun is blocked out and the air smells and feels heavy. For people exercising outdoors, the smoke can cause air quality issues that can have negative effects. Staff at Bend-La Pine Schools monitor air quality—and will cancel outdoor athletic activities or move them inside when the air quality index rises to unhealthy levels.

According to its website, "We are closely monitoring air quality and are in regular contact with our agency partners during wildfire season to help guide our decision making around school sponsored, student activities taking place outside. Bend-La Pine Schools staff regularly monitor the Air Quality Index at the Bend Pump Station and do regular visual inspections of outside air quality to determine outdoor activity levels for students, per the Oregon Health Authority's Public Health Guidance for School Outdoor Activities During Wildfire Events."

Dave Williams, athletic director for Bend Senior High School, said on a daily basis, he and the coaches at BSHS determine when to either move outdoor events such as practices or games to an area with lower AQI, cancel or move indoors for practices.

"Competitions can be somewhat of a different challenge, as much of our state is going through the same things we are—so making moves early on are tough because it is like shooting arrows in the dark. We don't know what the AQI will be in the next hour," Williams told the Source.

According to the OHA's guidelines, when air quality in considered unhealthy for sensitive groups—or 101 to 151 on the AQI scale—they recommend consideration of the following: limit students to light outdoor activities or move them indoors. When the AQI scale goes from 151 to 200—considered unhealthy, OHA recommends to consider canceling the event, move the event indoors, postpone the event or move the event to an area with "good" air quality. When the air quality falls to very unhealthy or hazardous—over 200— the OHA says to do the following: Cancel the event; move it indoors; postpone or move to an area with "good" air quality.

As of 11am on Aug. 20, Bend's air quality index was 177—considered unhealthy— according to aqicn.org, which measures air quality around the globe. An AQI of 141 is considered unhealthy to sensitive groups, according to the Air Quality Index Scale, which measures the amount of Ozone pollution (O3) in the air. On Aug. 15, the AQI in much of the Willamette Valley was at 500—the top of the scale—considered hazardous, where everyone should avoid all outdoor exertion.

"The air quality is just one of our concerns in these hot summer months," Williams added. "We also monitor the heat index and lightning/thunderstorm activity hourly, making adjustments to our plans according to the guidelines we have set forth. It can sometimes be frustrating for schools and programs but at the end of the day, it is all done for the safety of our athletes and coaches, which is priority No. 1."