Walla Walla’s smoke to last through week

Sean Gannon, News Editor

Walla Walla’s smoke and unhealthy air quality will persist throughout the week, according to the Washington Department of Ecology, setting an “air quality alert” in the county until noon on Friday, Sept. 18. 

Washington has seen smoke from Northwest wildfires linger since Friday, Sept. 11. Over the weekend, much of the state was under alert, with warnings from “unhealthy for sensitive groups” to “hazardous.” 

Walla Walla’s Air Quality Index (AQI) — a common classification of air pollution that ranges from zero to 500 — hit a “hazardous” 445 peak on Saturday. The air quality did not improve significantly in the following days, hovering between 300 and 400 AQI on Sunday and Monday. Health experts had expected smoke to mostly clear by Tuesday, but now believe air quality will gradually improve throughout the week.

Air quality across Washington state can be tracked with the Department of Ecology’s interactive map

Whitman College’s Director of Communications Gina Ohnstad advised local community members on Monday to stay inside and work from home on Tuesday, unless their residence’s air quality has been compromised. 

“If you think the air quality in your workspace is superior to the air where you live, you are welcome to work on campus if you have been approved by human resources to do so,” Ohnstad wrote in a schoolwide email.

Ohnstad also announced that the following campus services will be unavailable Tuesday: post office at Reid Campus Center; printing and mailing services in Boyer House; pickup at Penrose Library; and walk-up assistance at the Technology Services Help Desk.

The College has sent additional information and advice to those negatively affected by the wildfires and smoke. 

Friday’s Whitman Today email advised such students to reach out to faculty, advisors and the Counseling Center for additional help.

After the weekend, the College emailed a Department of Health list of recommendations and tips for protecting yourself from wildfire smoke. Included was a suggestion to set air conditioners on recirculate to prevent the intake of outside air, and instructions on how to create a do-it-yourself box fan filter. 

Director Ohnstad will continue to send updates on air quality and campus services throughout the week.