State issues air quality alert for Willamette Valley, northern Umatilla County

As residents struggle through triple digit temperatures, people in eastern Oregon and the Willamette Valley are facing high smog levels caused in part by the heat. 

The Department of Environmental Quality, Lane Regional Air Protection Agency and Southwest Clean Air Agency issued an air quality advisory Monday due to elevated levels of ozone pollution. They said it will affect northern Umatilla County through Monday and last in the Portland-Vancouver area and Willamette Valley through Tuesday – along with the heat wave.

Check air quality

To check current conditions, go online to the Department of Environmental Quality’s Air Quality Index or download the free OregonAIR app on a smartphone.

By Monday afternoon, the worst air quality statewide was in Eugene, Silverton, south of Portland and in Hermiston.

Health officials said certain groups are especially susceptible to the health effects of smog, including children, pregnant people, older adults and those with heart disease or respiratory conditions. They recommended that they limit outdoor activity when pollution levels are high.

They also said people should:

  • Limit driving and instead use public transit or carpool.
  • Avoid unnecessary engine idling. 
  • Refuel vehicles when it’s cooler in the evening. 
  • Avoid using gas-powered equipment in the yard.
  • Postpone painting and aerosol spray projects.

Smog forms when hot temperatures and low winds combine with pollution from cars, gas-powered engines and chemicals in paints and aerosols. They react with sunlight and heat, producing ozone and haze.

Pollution increases throughout the day as the sun blazes, and levels are the highest in the afternoon and early evening, when it also tends to be the hottest. That means that an air quality monitor showing clean air in the morning can quickly hit unhealthy levels later in the day.

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Lynne Terry has more than 30 years of journalism experience, including a recent stint as editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site. She reported on health and food safety in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio for nine years. She has won state, regional and national awards, including a National Headliner Award for a long-term care facility story and a top award from the National Association of Health Care Journalists for an investigation into government failures to protect the public from repeated salmonella outbreaks. She loves to cook and entertain, speaks French and is learning Portuguese.