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Wildfire smoke settled over Denver could cause serious health impacts

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DENVER (KDVR) — Lots of people are complaining about watery eyes, coughing and sneezing, and that includes visitors in town for the MLB All-Star Game.

Wildfire smoke has settled over the Front Range. Most of it is from wildfires burning in Oregon, California and Idaho. 

Bob Shaw is visiting Denver to attend the game. He is definitely noticing the impacts of the smoke from wildfires.

“I did notice when I was in the airplane as we were going over the Rockies — I pointed out, ‘Look at this layer of brown. This has to be from the fires. There’s no way. You don’t have this type of smog normally,’” Shaw said.

“Am I coughing a little? Maybe it’s allergies, maybe there’s smoke around,” Shaw said.

Smoke is damaging to health

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, Colorado wildfire smoke leads to dangerous health consequences. A study led by the organization found that in one year, Colorado wildfires led to:

  • 174 premature deaths;
  • 1,432 emergency room visits;
  • 256 hospital admissions;
  • and $1.6 billion in total health costs.

Wildfire smoke is “literally small bits of matter,” said Sam Gilchrist, NRDC’s Western campaigns director. “It can be ash, it can be dust, it can be a whole number of air contaminants. It gets into our lungs, into our bodies. It creates pretty serious health effects.”

The toxic air pollutants can cause long-term health problems.

“Even just an hour of exposure to wildfire smoke can have negative impacts on our health, especially for those who are elderly, young children,” Gilchrist said. “Wildfire smoke includes harmful contaminants that impact our heart and lungs and cardiovascular system.”

Smoke clouds Colorado sunshine

The impact on tourism isn’t as easy to measure, but some say the current conditions don’t showcase the Mile High city and the Rocky Mountains as well as if the skies were clear.

Wildfire smoke haze over Downtown Denver, as seen on July 12, 2021, from Dam Road. (Credit: Viewer-submitted)

“What I would tell the folks visiting, you’re missing out on what is the best part of Colorado: the blue bird skies, 300 days of sunshine. We don’t have that when we have wildfire smoke,” Gilchrist said.

One visitor put it into perspective: “Oh no, the air quality isn’t bad. I’m from Dallas, so it’s comparative to a big city. Lot fresher in Colorado than it is in Texas,” Ryan Kelley said.

What to do during smoky conditions

Gilchrist said first thing, it’s important to check on people who are most impacted:

  • Older people
  • Young children
  • Those with pre-existing conditions, like asthma

He also recommends checking air-quality levels before outdoor activities. That information is usually on your phone’s weather app. You can also check AirNow.gov.

“Before I go outside and exercise, I check to make sure it’s at safe level,” Gilchrist said.

Visit the Natural Resources Defense Council for more information.

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