Air Quality

Montana’s open spaces, breathtaking natural landscapes, and low population density make it an idyllic place for those of us lucky enough to call it home. Many are surprised, therefore, to learn that although Montana is the third least populated state in the U.S., it ranks only fourteenth for highest air quality (U.S. EPA). This is largely due to the severe impacts of summer wildfire smoke and winter inversions that trap air pollutants from wood burning stoves, vehicles and other pollution sources in our western valleys.

Montana residents can take steps to mitigate the effect of poor air quality on their health and daily routines. These steps begin with talking to their health care provider about their health risk. In addition, they must address their behaviors around both indoor and outdoor air, since both settings provide potential threats and opportunities to reduce the impact of lower air quality.

Indoor Air

Indoor air quality can have a significant effect on your health. Studies show that people spend 65 to 90 percent of their time indoors, and indoor air can be two to five times more polluted than outdoor air. The young, elderly, chronically ill, and those with respiratory or cardiovascular disease are often the most impacted by poor indoor air quality.

Outdoor Air

While health experts encourage individuals to spend at least twenty minutes per day, three times a week outside for overall health, we must also check air quality prior to any outdoor activity. In times of poor air quality, tiny particles (particulate matter) are dispersed in the air and can penetrate deep into the respiratory system. Air pollution is linked to a variety of health problems including wheezing and shortness of breath, reduced lung function, aggravation of asthma and other respiratory diseases, chest pain, non-fatal heart attacks and premature death among people with existing lung and heart conditions.

Wildfire Smoke

Montana communities regularly experience wildfire smoke events. Wildfire season typically runs from April to October. As wildfires burn through forests and grasslands, they produce smoke. Wildfire smoke may be carried thousands of kilometers from the fire zone. This means smoke can impact air quality in areas close to and far from the wildfire. Outdoor smoke contains very small particles and gases. These particles can get into your eyes and lungs where they can cause health problems.