Wildfire smoke brings record poor air quality to Oregon, new data shows

Oregon is experiencing record poor air quality from wildfire smoke across the state, according to analysis by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality and Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA).

Oregon air reached unhealthy or hazardous levels across the state last week on the Air Quality Index (AQI)—which categorizes how clean the air is and lists associated health risks. Dense smoke is expected to remain throughout most of Oregon until at least Thursday.

Snapshot of EPA AirNow’s AQI map on Saturday, Sept. 12 at 11 a.m.

DEQ and LRAPA compared recent and historical Air Quality Index information for Portland, Eugene, Bend, Medford and Klamath Falls. The AQI ranks air quality on a progressive five-step scale: good, moderate, unhealthy, very unhealthy or hazardous.

Preliminary analysis shows:

  • Record highs: All five cities exceeded previous daily records for poor air quality during wildfire season. Southern Oregon has previously seen extended periods of unhealthy and very unhealthy air quality, but Medford and Klamath Falls have also set records this year. All previous records were set in September 2017.
  • Hazardous days: Other than Medford, no city has previously experienced a hazardous air quality day since DEQ began monitoring. Medford had one day of hazardous air quality in both 2017 and 1987. Last week, Eugene had five hazardous days, Bend and Medford had three, Portland had two, and Klamath Falls had one.
  • Very unhealthy days: While Eugene, Bend, Medford and Klamath Falls have experienced very unhealthy days in previous years, Portland has never had a very unhealthy day. Last week, Portland had two very unhealthy days.

Previous and new daily AQI records (through Sunday, Sept. 13)

  • Portland’s previous record AQI was 157 (unhealthy) in 2017. Portland’s new record is 477 (hazardous) set on Sunday, Sept. 13.
  • Eugene’s previous record AQI was 291 (very unhealthy) in 2017. Eugene’s new record is 457 (hazardous) set on Sunday, Sept. 13.
  • Bend’s previous record AQI was 231 (very unhealthy) in 2017. Bend’s new record is over 500 (beyond the AQI scale ) set on Saturday, Sept. 12.
  • Medford’s previous record AQI was 319 (hazardous). Medford’s new record is 325 (hazardous) set on Saturday, Sept. 12.
  • Klamath Fall’s previous record AQI was 254 (very unhealthy). Klamath Fall’s new record is 331 (hazardous) set on Saturday, Sept. 12.

Regular record-keeping of air quality levels began in Portland, Eugene and Medford in 1985, Bend in 1989, and Klamath Falls in 1999.

CityPrevious
Record
AQI
9/7
AQI
9/8
AQI
9/9
AQI
9/10
AQI
9/11
AQI
9/12
AQI
9/13
Portland157841866215287388477
Bend231107375497485500+ 404
Medford319669445207321325319
Klamath Falls25476543573189331223
Eugene291106342239387447438457
Previous record daily AQI and daily AQI levels for Monday, Sept. 7 – Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. All previous daily AQI records were set in 2017.

DEQ’s color-coded Air Quality Index provides current air quality conditions and ranks air quality on a scale of 0-500. Green (0-50) is good. Yellow (51-100) is moderate.  Orange (101 to 150) is unhealthy for sensitive groups such as children, seniors, pregnant women and those with respiratory conditions. Red (151 to 200) is unhealthy for everyone. Purple (201 to 300) is very unhealthy for everyone. Maroon (301 to 500) is hazardous for everyone. Over 500 is off the AQI scale. People should follow recommendations for hazardous conditions.

Get the latest air quality info on the Oregon Smoke Information Blog or by downloading the free OregonAir smartphone app on Android or iPhone.

Media Contacts:

  • Laura Gleim, Oregon DEQ, 541-633-2030, gleim.laura@deq.state.or.us
  • Travis Knudsen, Lane Regional Air Protection Agency, 303-523-2661, travis@lrapa.org

Note about data: Data for 2020 is preliminary and has not yet been validated according to DEQ’s quality assurance procedures. Historical data focuses on wildfire smoke, and excludes data from wintertime air quality levels, field burning days, and the Fourth of July (because of fireworks).

Published by Oregon Department of Environmental Quality

DEQ’s mission is to be a leader in restoring, maintaining and enhancing the quality of Oregon’s air, land and water.

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