“Mama! Can we go outside today? Please?” my kids ask me, for the millionth time that day.
“A few more minutes, kids,” I reply, glancing at my phone.
“MAMA! We want to go outside!”
“Couple more minutes, guys. Just got to check and see if we can first.”
“One more minute.”
I hit refresh on my phone. Like every day this summer, my home page is set to the state’s air quality website. The bubble beside our city is yellow.
“Okay! It’s yellow! Let’s go!” The kids cheer. I slap on sunscreen and shoo them out the door. My eyes burn and throat itches at the smell of smoke in the air. After half an hour of watching my kids play, I have a headache. But at least the air quality isn’t technically dangerous, I tell myself…for this hour anyway.
Parents across Montana lived by the hour this summer. Every hour, fifteen minutes past the hour, we pulled out our phones to check get the latest air quality update. If the air quality indicator was in the yellow, or by some miracle green, we ran outside to make the most of it. If it was orange, we might venture out, all the while begging our kids not to run too fast or play too hard lest they set off another asthma attack. If it was red, or even purple, we hunkered down, turned on our air filters if we had them, and prayed for rain.
While this summer’s wildfires made national headlines for the homes they burned, the smoke from the fires endangered the health of millions more out of the fires’ direct paths. During periods of heavy smoke, adults are at greater risk of blood clots, heart attacks, and stroke. Children’s lungs are still developing, however, and may be even more susceptible to smoke. Kids breathe in more air – as well as more smoke particulates and pollution – for their size than adults do.
Politicians in Washington phoned home to tell us we simply needed to cut down more trees, as if grassland fires weren’t burning rampant in our severe drought. Meanwhile, kids weren’t allowed to go outside during recess, and teachers kept windows closed in schools without any air conditioning. But even with windows shut tight, the smoke crept in and most classrooms did not have HEPA filters to help purify the air.
Eventually, rain came and then snow and we could all breathe a sigh of relief. Those sweltering, smoggy summer days came rushing back to me when this week our local sheriff’s office put out an advisory telling residents, “Don’t be outdoors any more than you have to be for the rest of the week.” A winter inversion – where cold air pushes warm air down, trapping it in valleys – was forcing pollution and poor air quality down on us.
Our kids deserve to be able to run outside, taking deep breaths of clean air, no matter the time of year. And rather than listening to politicians bicker, parents should be offered practical solutions that can improve their children’s quality of life – such as HEPA filters in every school so they may have at least one place that they can breathe free.
Wand to learn more about how to protect your family during smoke events? Please read and share our guide on wildfire smoke. And help fight climate change and improve the air our children breathe by protecting our bedrock environmental regulations.