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Klamath County News Release: Air quality issues prompt questions about using face masks

July 31, 2018
Contact: Ramona Quinn,  Valeree Lane,, 541.882.8846

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. – Klamath County continues to experience severe smoke intrusion from regional wildfires, creating hazardous air quality concerns. Public Health officials are fielding questions about the use of face masks to reduce smoke exposure.

The Oregon Health Authority has prepared the following information.
People who must be outdoors may be considering the use of masks to help protect their lungs from wildfire smoke. Masks can create a false sense of security if not properly selected, fitted and used. 

There are a few things to know if you are considering the use of a mask:
  • Avoid the use of surgical masks, bandanas and other common masks. These have not been shown to prevent smoke exposure.
  • Those with questions about use of masks in the workplace should contact their employers, or Oregon OSHA at
  • There are specialized masks that may prevent some smoke exposure.
  • Most people will find it difficult to use these specialized masks, called particulate respirators, in a way that provides protection.

Considerations about particulate respirators include:
  • Selecting the correct respirator size can be difficult.
  • The type of respirator that is able to filter out harmful smoke particles is not available in children’s sizes.
  •  The fit of the respirator must be tested to make sure air does not leak around the sides. Leaking air means that exposure to smoke can still occur.
  •  Facial hair can cause the mask to seal incorrectly.
  •  The masks can be uncomfortable. Even healthy adults may find that the increased effort required for breathing makes it uncomfortable to wear a respirator for more than short periods of time. Breathing may be even more difficult for those with heart and lung conditions.
  •  Care must be taken to select a “particulate respirator” that is marked with the word “NIOSH” and either “N95” or “P100” printed on it.

Residents are encouraged to visit to learn the current air quality index. Each category corresponds to a different level of health concern. The six levels of health concern and what they mean are:
  • Good is 0 to 50. Air quality is considered satisfactory, and air pollution poses little or no risk.
  • Moderate is 51 to 100. Air quality is acceptable; however, for some pollutants there may be a moderate health concern for a very small number of people. For example, people who are unusually sensitive to ozone may experience respiratory symptoms.
  • Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups is 101 to 150. Although the general public is not likely to be affected at this range, people with lung disease, older adults and children are at a greater risk from exposure to ozone, whereas persons with heart and lung disease, older adults and children are at greater risk from the presence of particles in the air.
  • Unhealthy is 151 to 200. Everyone may begin to experience some adverse health effects, and members of the sensitive groups may experience more serious effects.
  • Very Unhealthy is 201 to 300. This would trigger a health alert signifying that everyone may experience more serious health effects.
  •  Hazardous is greater than 300. This would trigger a health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected.

      Weather conditions and smoke levels can vary dramatically during wildfires. Conditions can change as frequently as hourly. In the last two days, Klamath County has ranged between unhealthy and very unhealthy.