SOURCE: High Country News

DATE: July 1, 2019

SNIP: At times over the past two summers, Seattle experienced some of the worst air quality in the world. With wildfires breaking out in British Columbia, Oregon, and California, the city was hit by smoke from nearly every direction. It caused increased air pollution for 24 days, and on a few occasions, the air was so bad it was considered “unhealthy for all.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and her colleagues are grappling with the possibility that this could be a “new normal” for Seattle’s summers. On June 19, Durkan announced plans to create public clean-air shelters that residents can visit on smoky days in the city’s future.

The pilot program will outfit five public buildings with high-tech filtration systems that screen out smoke and toxins. The buildings will also be equipped with detection systems to keep tabs on how clean the indoor and outdoor air is, and air doors at entrances to push dirty air away. The installations are expected to be completed by late July.

This year, Washington state has already faced more than 170 wildfires, which is considered high given how early in the season it is. In May, Governor Jay Inslee declared a drought emergency in nearly half of the state in response to poor water supply and predictions of warmer and drier weather. British Columbia also has higher-than-normal wildfire conditions.

“It’s a sad thing to say this, but if you love the outdoors, you might want to think about getting out when it’s safe, because we can’t tell you anymore that it’s always going to be safe,” said Craig Kenworthy, executive director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, during the pilot-program announcement.