Sept. 4, 2020 | By Psalm Delaney | Photo by Patil Khakhamian
Where did the mountains go?
Currently, five wildfires are burning in northern, southern, and western Colorado in addition to numerous fires that are burning in southern California. The smoke from these fires travels with the wind, creating a hazy fog that has blocked the Colorado College campus view of Pikes Peak and the Rocky Mountain range. The level of smoke in the Colorado Springs area and its risk to athletes and outdoor enthusiasts has been of concern to CC faculty, coaches, and Colorado Springs public health officials.
According to the official government air quality website, Air Now, the current and forecasted air quality is marked as “good.” Health officials have deemed it safe for the community to train and participate in their usual outdoor activities.
However, the ever-changing nature of natural disasters requires public attention and caution. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) states that wildfire smoke “is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn.” It is critical for all inhabitants of the area to monitor the local smoke index to best protect themselves and their families.
Outdoor athletes in particular need to be informed and aware of the air quality index before engaging in outdoor training. According to the Yolo-Solano Air Quality District, the primary wildfire smoke pollutant of concern is particulate matter. The diameter of the wildfire particulate matter measures 2.5 micrometers (PM2.5). The microscopic nature of the pollutant poses an increased threat to those who engage in outdoor training because it is inhaled very easily. Increased breaths during exercise will lead to an increased level of inhaled particulate matter, which consequently leads to an increased risk of lung damage.
The USEPA states that the public can reduce their risk of inhaling wildfire pollutants by wearing an N-95 or P-100 mask while outside. The N-95 mask filters 95% of small particles from the air. Furthermore, the Colorado state mask ordinance is dually effective during the present conditions of the wildfires in the western United States and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overall, all individuals participating in outdoor training should be conscious and aware of the local Air Quality Index (AQI). The following are AQI guidelines, courtesy of the Yolo-Solano Air Quality District:
AQI (0-50): Great day to be active outside.
AQI (51-100): Good day to be outside. Unusually sensitive individuals may have symptoms and should consider reducing prolonged exertion and monitor their conditions.
AQI (101-150): It is okay to be outside with reduced exercise or increased breaks. Sensitive individuals should monitor their conditions.
AQI (151-200): Exercise indoors or limit heavy outdoor activity with increased breaks. Watch for symptoms and take action as needed.
AQI (201-250): NO OUTDOOR ACTIVITY. All activities should be moved indoors or rescheduled.
The AQI for the zip code surrounding Colorado College (80903) is forecasted to be within the AQI 0-50 range. It is safe for athletes and participants of outdoor activities to engage in their usual training. However, it is important to be cautious, aware, and knowledgeable of the area’s AQI before participating in outdoor training to reduce the risk of lung damage.