Air Quality Resources

Wildfire smoke engulfed the Oregon Convention Center
Wildfire smoke engulfs the Oregon Convention Center in September 2020. Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA/Newscom

Welcome to the Lloyd EcoDistrict air quality webpage! Below we’ve compiled information and resources for the Lloyd community to prepare for all air quality scenarios. Poor air quality is not a new issue for Portland, with the 2020 wildfires causing Portland air to become “very unhealthy” for all. It was clear that most were not prepared for such poor air quality, leaving many unsure of how to combat the natural disaster. 

Why is smoke & bad air quality bad for you?

When smoke is emitted into the air or poor air quality appears, fine particles are released into the air. These microscopic particles can enter deep into your lungs and cause a range of health problems. Inhaling smoke for a short period can cause immediate, yet acute effects such as irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat. Inhaling particles for a long period can have more drastic effects, such as respiratory irritation, shortness of breath, and can worsen medical conditions related to the heart and lungs. 

chart showing AQI levels and colors
The AQI ranges from 0 to 500; the higher the number, the worse the air quality.

What is the Air Quality Index (AQI)?

The AQI measures air quality and has a scale ranging from 0 to 500; the higher the AQI value, the greater the air pollution and health concern. 

The AQI is divided into six categories with each section corresponding to a different health concern. For example AQI ranging from 101 to 150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups and AQI 301 and higher is considered hazardous and a health warning emergency condition for everyone. 

To put this in perspective, there were areas in the Pacific Northwest that reached ratings well beyond 500 in the late summer of 2020. Above 500 is off the AQI scale; this does not mean the monitors can’t display the higher number, it means that the health categories have not been developed to go beyond 500. 

The Air Quality Guide for Particle Pollution includes cautionary statements and actions people can take to reduce their risk from exposure to air pollution at different levels of health concern.
The Air Quality Guide for Particle Pollution includes cautionary statements and actions people can take to reduce their risk from exposure to air pollution at different levels of health concern.

Before 2020, the Portland area had never experienced air quality measuring higher than “Unhealthy” on the AQI. However, last year, the area logged three “Very Unhealthy” and five “Hazardous” days.

What is Lloyd’s current AQI?

Although it may not appear that there is poor air quality, it is important to check the current AQI if you have underlying health conditions. We are fortunate enough that there is an AQI monitor in the Lloyd area, located at the Moda Center. You can check the current AQI at this link or below.

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What can you do to prepare?

It is possible and important to prepare before hazardous air quality arrives. Often, bad air quality can develop in a matter of days, not allowing one to sufficiently prepare essential resources to combat the health concern. Here are three steps you can do prior to bad air quality:

Have extra high-quality masks on hand

If you need to go outside, it is essential to wear a well-fitted N-95 mask to prevent fine minuscule particulate matter in the smoke from entering your lungs. Breathing in smoke without a high-quality mask can have serious health effects. Unfortunately, cloth and surgical masks do little to keep out particulate matter. Going outside without a mask can have long-term health effects. Furthermore, participating in high-intensity activities such as running, biking, or hiking, while wearing a mask can actually worsen your intake of pollutants in the air. 

Such activities cause your lungs to work harder and result in bringing more pollutants into your lungs. Doing these activities while wearing a mask is not much better: masks restrict air intake, making you breathe even harder, and increasing the amount of air (and smoke) entering your lungs. If at all possible, it is best to avoid these activities entirely on days with bad air quality.

Obtain (or make) an air filter

Air filters decrease the amount of air pollutants inside. Many hardware/home improvement stores (including the Broadway Ace Hardware in Lloyd) carry air filters, yet when smoke develops, there is a large rush to purchase them. Obtaining an air filter prior to smoke will relieve stress and ensure that your home is safe. Here is a list of some of the best ones on the market. If you cannot obtain an air filter, there are useful resources that explain how to construct your own filter. To increase the effectiveness of your filter, you can create a clean room, which is a single room where an air filter is placed and where no hazardous particles can enter. This can be very useful in multi-family residents with individuals with health conditions. More information on how to create a clean room can be found here.

Check if you have an air filtration system

Some office and residential buildings have built-in air filtration systems. It is important to make sure that the filtration system is up to date and code, if it is not, update it as soon as possible. An effective air filtration system will make breathing easier in times of hazardous air. If you do not have an air filtration system or do not know if it is up to code, Multnomah County will inspect your system; check your eligibility here.

The air quality is poor or hazardous currently. What options do I have?

There is a possibility that poor air quality will develop too fast for one to properly prepare. Here are four steps you can take if bad air quality emerges without warning:

Mask Up 

If possible, obtain N95 or KN95 masks if you need to spend time in hazardous air. 

It is highly not advised to do outdoor activities that increase heart rate and breath during times of poor air quality, such as running and biking. Doing these activities while wearing a mask will cause you to breathe more heavily, increasing your intake of pollutant air. Spend as much time as you can in clear air spaces. 

Create an Air Filter

 If all air filters are out of stock, it is essential that you create your own air filter.

  • Step One: Get a medium-large fan, preferably one with a flat front.
  • Step Two: Buy a HEPA filter (you will later attach this to the fan). 
  • Step Three: Pull the grating off the front of the fan; the best way to do this is with pliers. Turn the power setting to a medium/high level and then remove the knob. Depending on where the knob is located on your fan, it may be in the way of a filter. If you do remove the knob, you will turn the air purifier on and off by plugging and unplugging it. 
  • Step Fout: Attach the HEPA filter to your fan, for example with bungee cords. 

For a more detailed explanation, visit this link.

Create a Clean Room

A clean room is a single room where an air filter is placed and where no hazardous particles can enter. This can be very useful in multi-family residents with individuals with health conditions.

  • Step One: Choose a room that is big enough for everyone in the household, for example a bedroom or a family room. 
  • Step Two: Ensure that no smoke enters the room by closing windows and doors.
  • Step Three: Start to cool down the room by running air conditioning and closing the blinds.
  • Step Four: Place your air filter in the room and avoid activities that create smoke or other particles, such as smoking, lighting candles, and frying food. 
  • Step Five: Spend as much time as you can in the clean room; once air quality improves, air out the room to freshen the air. 

Find more information at this link.

Locate a Clean Air Center

If poor air quality becomes severe enough that you can not find safe air, Multnomah County has designated clean air/cooling shelters where individuals can find refuge. These shelters are constantly growing and although there is not a current list, the Emergency Department will post the locations at this website during hazardous air quality events. Additionally, Multnomah County employees will provide this information to the houseless community throughout Portland. You can also call 211 to find clean air centers near you and additional information.