Message from Oregon’s Environmental Quality Commission Chair

Today let’s remember all those who have suffered losses, and again pay tribute to the firefighters who are working so hard out there. And let’s work together to improve the conditions that have such dangerous potential.

Oregon Environmental Quality Commission Chair, Kathleen George

People across Oregon have been suffering the impacts from unprecedented wildfires throughout our state and region and I want to acknowledge the tremendous losses that have been suffered by our fellow citizens. Up and down the West Coast, the destruction from these fires is heartbreaking. 

As the Chair of the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission, I want to share the commission’s compassion as we mourn with those who have lost family and friends in the fires. This is devastating and our thoughts go out to them. We are thankful that more lives were not lost, and so grateful to the heroic efforts of those fighting on the frontlines of the blazes.

We remember those who have lost homes, special places, and prized family treasures. These losses are traumatic and some can never be replaced. We also recognize that millions of people have struggled with dangerous breathing conditions for weeks. This is difficult and sickening in the short term and damaging to our health in the long term. 

We know that many factors came together to create the dangerous conditions that Oregon has been facing. And scientists have warned for years that climate change was creating hotter dryer conditions that would make events like the ones Oregon has been experiencing more common if we continue on our current path.

Working with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, we are intimately aware of the benefits of using science to protect and restore air quality. DEQ’s air monitors and Air Quality Index are among the most valuable tools to determine when an air advisory is needed for portions of the state.

With the unforgiving wildfires and overwhelming smoke, even these tools were pushed to the limit. The circumstances were far beyond anyone’s control, but there are still steps we can take to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

So, today let’s remember all those who have suffered losses, and again pay tribute to the firefighters who are working so hard out there. And let’s work together to improve the conditions that have such dangerous potential.

— Kathleen George, Environmental Quality Commission Chair

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).

Oregon wildfires, smoke prompt a coordinated response

Oregon Forest Fire by Canva

When wildfires blew up along the Santiam and McKenzie river canyons, Peter Brewer was up at dawn, studying satellite imagery that showed a thick wall of smoke across much of western and southern Oregon. Brewer, a wildfire smoke response coordinator, knew bad news when he saw it.

“You know what’s coming,” says Brewer, who works in the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s Bend office. “You know we’re going to get hit in a big way.”

Oregon has officially entered fire season, and it already is going down as one of the worst and most tragic on record. At last count, 50 fires, more than 500 square miles burned, sending huge plumes of smoke wherever the wind blows. This week, Eugene and Salem caught the brunt of it, with mid-day skies darkened and emitting an eerie red glow.

What makes for dramatic news photography, however, is bad for public health. DEQ’s system of air monitors showed some of the worst air since the agency began measuring, hovering in the purple “hazardous” category in at least nine communities. It is rare for air quality to dip down into the red “unhealthy” level. Smoke produces fine particulates that pose a health risk when breathed into the lungs.

DEQ’s role when wildfires burn is to let the public know about the quality of the air and what steps to take if it starts to head into the unhealthy range. The agency depends on its ever-growing network of air monitors along with a host of other government, tribal and health organizations to accurately predict where the smoke is going to be and how it affects air quality.

Before the devastating 2012 Pole Creek Fire near Sisters, there was little coordination among state agencies when a fire broke out. The dense smoke from that fire led to calls for more coordination, which led to a multi-agency effort to track smoke and provide advisories.

Since then, the effort has grown to include the Oregon Department of Forestry, the National Weather Service, the Oregon Health Authority, local county health offices, tribes and more. During the most recent collaborative call, more than 90 people were on the line.

During the call, which is led by DEQ, forestry officials described the fires and fire patterns, weather forecasters showed wind directions and strength and the determination was made to declare an air quality advisory for all regions of Oregon and Southwest Washington due to fires in Oregon, Washington and California. “And it’s going to be put to use as never before,” he says. “This is going to be historically one of the worst fire seasons Oregon has had.”

–Harry Esteve, communications manager

Read Knowing the colors of the air quality index to learn about DEQ’s AQI.

Knowing the colors of the air quality index

AQI map, Oregon Smoke Information Blog, Sept. 11

A glance at a map of air quality monitors around the state provides a quick check of the air.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality uses a color-coded system to signal air quality at each of the monitors. Green means good. Maroon means hazardous.

And there are three colors, and levels of air quality in between.

The Air Quality Index online map and the OregonAIR app utilize the same color-coded system, as does the interactive map on the Oregon Smoke Information Blog.

People most at risk from particle pollution exposure, such as wildfire smoke, include those with heart or lung diseases. Older adults and children, as well as pregnant women, may also be more susceptible to smoke exposure.

Find the OregonAIR app at apple.co/3h9PJwA for iPhone and bit.ly/2FiHSzW for Android.

– Dylan Darling, public affairs specialist

DEQ to attend Oregon’s Energy Future Virtual Conference, September 1, 2020

Rachel Sakata, DEQ senior air quality planner

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is proud to announce that Rachel Sakata, DEQ senior air quality planner, will be leading a roundtable discussion on Oregon’s involvement with Medium- and Heavy Duty Zero Emission Vehicles MOU at the Oregon Energy Future Conference presented by the Northwest Environmental Business Council.

Continue reading “DEQ to attend Oregon’s Energy Future Virtual Conference, September 1, 2020”

Feeding the hungry, not landfills: DEQ grants $140,000 to Oregon Food Bank to fight hunger and food waste

Jason D. Smith with Oregon Food Bank, unloads produce in July at the Baltazar Ortiz Family Center in Porltand [Photo courtesy of Oregon Food Bank]

Serving more than 860,000 people each year prior to COVID-19, Oregon Food Bank’s network of 1,400 pantries and meal sites are driven by donations of fresh produce, protein, dairy and other pantry staples. In preparing this food for distribution, volunteers devote thousands of hours to sorting and packaging bulk donations from across the Northwest.

Continue reading “Feeding the hungry, not landfills: DEQ grants $140,000 to Oregon Food Bank to fight hunger and food waste”

Summer at the Oregon DEQ: Learning, Planning, and Spreading the Word

A sailboat with fouled hull

My name is Chris Schmokel, and I am an environmental chemistry major at Oregon State University and also an Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholar Fellow. My fellowship placement is with the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, and this summer I’m working on two projects: starting a pilot program to test for copper concentrations in Oregon waters, and creating a short video to share all the good work being done by the Oregon Sea Grant’s Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience internship program.

Continue reading “Summer at the Oregon DEQ: Learning, Planning, and Spreading the Word”

EPA plan for Washington and Oregon rivers leaves salmon in hot water

(Reposted with permission from Washington Department of Ecology)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently released their plan to reduce temperatures in the Columbia and Snake rivers. The plan, called a “Total Maximum Daily Load” or TMDL, is like a diet for temperature: it sets reduction targets for each source of temperature pollution — such as dams, businesses, and even climate change. If each of these sources meet its goal, temperatures in the rivers will remain at levels healthy for endangered salmon.

Continue reading “EPA plan for Washington and Oregon rivers leaves salmon in hot water”

Franziska Landes recognized for using science to solve societal problems

Franziska Landes, Northwest Region Cleanup staff, received the 2019 Science for Solutions Award from the American Geophysical Union “for significant contributions in the application and use of the Earth and space sciences to solve societal problems.”

Continue reading “Franziska Landes recognized for using science to solve societal problems”