Tired of the Smoke? You Should Probably Get Used to It.

Nearly the entire state is experiencing historically bad air quality. But Tom Roick of the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality says it’s part of a pattern.

IMAGE: Alex Wittwer.

WW presents "Distant Voices," a daily video interview for the era of social distancing. Our reporters are asking Portlanders what they're doing during quarantine.

If you're having difficulty recalling the last time a week in Portland felt like living inside a smoldering ashtray, your memory isn't failing.

Indeed, the city has never seen air quality quite this bad.

Before last week, the worst number Portland ever recorded on the Air Quality Index—which measures the levels of concentrated particulate matter in the atmosphere, then assigns categories based on potential health risks—was 167, achieved during the 2017 Eagle Creek fire, which was considered "unhealthy."

That record is now 442, or "hazardous."

But while nearly the entire state is recording unprecedented AQI numbers due to the wildfires burning both in Oregon and neighboring states, Tom Roick, air quality monitoring manager for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, says a trend has developed.

Prior to 2015, Portland has never fallen into the "unhealthy" range in 30 years of consistent air quality monitoring. Now, it's reached that level four of the past six summers.

"It's a consequence of warmer, drier summers, and that's having an impact on the prevalence of wildfires," Roick says, "and the more wildfires we have, obviously, the more smoky conditions we have around the state."

The smoke will eventually dissipate—hopefully by this weekend. But as Roick tells WW, don't expect this to be a one-time event.

See more Distant Voices interviews here.

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