Air Quality Problems Strike Eugene Once Again

By: Hannah Sayre

This past summer, parts of the West suffered from dangerously smoky air that pushed air safety meters across California and Oregon. In Eugene, records for hazardous air were shattered. Now, even in the cold, we are suffering from low-quality air again, but thankfully not to the same degree.

Air stagnation advisories are in effect for much of the Western part of Oregon. Air masses are moving less than usual, meaning that pollutants such as car exhaust and particulate matter, microscopic pieces of smoke and soot, are not being cleared away.

For the last week, The Lane Regional Air Protection Agency (LRAPA) has been reporting “moderate” readings, except for Dec. 9, when the air was in the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” category.

“The air has definitely seemed kind of smoky these past couple days. The first thing I’ve been noticing when I walk outside is first how cold it is and then the tinge of smoke like in August but to a lesser degree,” said sophomore Eloise McFarlane.

According to LRAPA, the “red-looking” sun is due to smoke blocking the usual absorption of sunlight. The pollutant is particulate matter from wood-burning home fires, not from wildfires as in the summer. The California wildfires are too far south to affect us in Eugene.

However, the entire West Coast is suffering from a similar problem that presents itself in different ways. A ridiculously resilient ridge causes drought and wildfire in California, dry air, and smoke that does not clear away. It is the main reason behind the low-quality air Eugenians are facing right now.

“The ridge is a high pressure tide that runs from Baja to Canada and sits over that area and doesn’t move, blocking any moisture from the ocean from coming in,” said science teacher Scott Zarnegar. “In Eugene it’s causing air stagnation in the valley because there’s no wind to blow out wood smoke and car exhaust.”

Zarnegar said that these conditions are “not normal at all” for winter in Eugene.

On a more positive note, the smoky air is likely to clear out in the next week, and “moderate” readings are not to be considered unhealthy for a reasonable amount of time. This is, however, a larger, global problem presenting itself locally.

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