USA –– BUTTE – This season of Montana wildfires released more than 7 million tons of emissions into the air, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Officials say over time these byproducts will move out of the air naturally, but there could be indirect effects.
Wildfires create more than 20 types of byproducts that are released into the air and each one is produced in varying amounts.
“There are other pollutants that come off of the fire which are really not in millions of tons but they are in very small quantities, but they are probably more toxic,” said Kumar Ganesan, department head of environmental engineering at Montana Tech.
One example is mercury. The Forest Service estimates nearly .87 tons of mercury emissions have been produced this year. This is a small amount compared to the carbon monoxide emissions which are estimated to be more than 500,000 tons and carbon dioxide emissions which are estimated at more than 7,000,000 tons.
“It’s going to be hanging around in the air and be deposited with the dust and the particles,” Ganesan said. “Once the rain comes or the snowmelt where that is going to go it’s going to go into the water body.”
Officials from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality said these conditions are typical following a hot and dry fire season.
“Montana’s air is pretty much the cleanest in the whole country,” said Lacey Evans, sate air quality meteorologist for the DEQ. “There’s probably lots of teeny, teeny bits of something in the air at some point in time, but not enough to warrant any huge concerns.”
The Health Department is most worried about the particulate matter that’s ten times smaller than a human hair.
“Those are the particles that are so small you really technically can’t see them in the air, but they have a tendency to get deeper in your lungs and cause more problems,” said Paul Riley, sanitarium with the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department.
“It’s just a matter of when the upper level winds come in and kick them out and disperse them,” Riley said.
Heavy rain and snow would also help the air quality, according to Riley.
“You don’t need really high concentrations of smoke if you are breathing it in constantly for a whole day, you don’t need that high of a concentration to start feeling some sorts of health effects,” Evans said.
High temperatures are expected over the next week which bring concerns to the DEQ that fire season is still not over.
The DEQ provides air quality health standards every hour and a 24-hour average of the air quality throughout Montana. To view this up-to-date air quality information visit TodaysAir.mt.gov.