Auburn air quality 9 times worse than federal standard

By: Bruce Warren Journal Staff Writer
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Numerous area wildfires caused Auburn’s air quality index to zoom to more than nine times the federal air quality standard early Friday morning, according to Placer County air pollution officials. The federal particulate matter standard for air measured during a 24-hour period, allows for 35 micrograms per cubic meter. On Friday that index soared as high as 323 micrograms in the Auburn area, said Tom Christofk, air pollution control officer of Placer County. Particle readings were even worse at higher elevations, including Colfax, which saw higher levels on Friday than Thursday, Christofk said. The readings taken from a micro dust analyzer by Yushuo Chang, supervisor of monitoring at Placer County air control, were highest with a 323 reading at 7 a.m. Friday. From 10 to 11 a.m., Chang said the readings averaged 275, but by 2 p.m., it dropped to 232, still well above the federal average standard of 35. This past Wednesday, particle micrograms were measured at 151 in Auburn and 78 in Roseville. The standard paper mask that can be purchased at the hardware store is not an effective solution in stopping tiny particles, according to Dr. Mark Starr, director of community health and clinics for Placer County. “Paper masks will not filter out the fine particles that are contained in the smoke, and for some people it makes it harder to breathe,” Starr said. “If people want to buy a mask they should buy a N-95 mask. It looks similar to the paper mask, but it has a metal piece in the nose bridge and won’t work as well with a person who has a beard.” While Starr said “our clinics have not seen a notable increase in respiratory complaints so far,” that’s not the case at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital. “For our department, we have seen a steady influx of patients on Thursday, which was probably the peak of it,” said Ronna Davis, manager of cardiopulmonary services at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital. On Thursday the emergency room at Auburn Faith Hospital, admitted at least eight patients with breathing issues, which is a 200 percent increase, according to Davis. “But it’s unclear if those were smoke related or just standard breathing issues,” Davis said. Overall, the hospital has seen “an increase in cardiac and respiratory cases but the increase has not been overwhelming,” said Robin Montgomery, spokeswoman for Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital. The hospital has placed a charcoal treatment device on the hospital’s air filter system to keep smoke from the fires from getting inside the building and affecting patients. “Charcoal takes smoke out of the air,” Davis said. “This facility has several intake places, and they have replaced their filters. There is smoke coming in from the doors, but it is away from the inpatient population.” It’s not just patients who face breathing risks due to the smoky air. “Those who are healthy should not be out running, biking or do any outdoor activity that is not necessary,” Davis said. Auburn Recreation District officials announced Thursday that the Sierra Pool would be closed and several sports programs cancelled to prevent unhealthy exposure to the smoke. Davis recommended that people who normally run outside could use a treadmill inside, or visit an indoor gym to exercise. The Placer County Health Department has issued a release listing symptoms from the increase of fine particles associated with smoke. Eye irritation, throat irritation and coughing are three symptoms. People with existing heart and lung disease, including asthma, may experience heightened symptoms. The Journal’s Bruce Warren can be reached at, or comment at Air Quality Information Health Advisories & Air Quality Forecasts - Updated several times daily, Monday to Friday on Web at Air Quality Questions – Placer County Air Pollution Control District, 530-745-2330