Grant County Health District concerned over air quality at fair

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EPHRATA — Officials with the Grant County Health District are concerned that the air quality over the Columbia Basin might affect next week’s Grant County Fair.

“We’re going to have more smoke,” said Grant County Health Officer Alexander Brzezny at a meeting of the district’s oversight board. “If we’re at purple and hazardous, will we let people stay (at the fairgrounds)?”

By purple, Brzezny was referring to the Washington Department of Ecology’s air quality guide, which grades air quality on a 0-500 index with color coded health categories. Two shades of purple are “very unhealthy” or “hazardous” for everyone, and could potentially prompt the closure of the county fair.

Brzezny said recent studies of the effects of polluted air — particularly small particles of carbon soot that comes from brush and forest fires — show an immediate increase in heart attacks, asthma and “a significant increase” in emergency room visits.

“It could happen,” Brzezny said of closing down the fair because of air quality. “I don’t want you to be surprised.”

According to Ecology’s Air Quality Monitoring Network, air quality in Moses Lake was “unhealthy for everyone” for several hours Wednesday afternoon, but has mostly been “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

A front is forecast to move in this weekend, brining with it lower temperatures and increasing winds that will clear out much of the smoke. However, by the time the fair starts on Tuesday, smoke from wildfires near Chelan and Wenatchee is supposed to return.

Brzezny later said that while he could order Grant County Sheriff Tom Jones to close the fair if he believed it was necessary, he would rather work cooperatively with the fair directors.

“We’ll look at every contingency we have to before we shut it down,” said County Commission Chair Richard Stevens, who is also a member of the health district’s board of directors.

Stevens said he remembers a time a few years ago when the fires were so bad “stuff was falling from the sky” and commissioners had to consider what to do about the county fair. He also noted there are alternatives to closing down the fair, such as making protective masks available, something Douglas County recently did, Stevens added.

“We have no plans to shut it down, but we’ll deal with what we need to deal with,” he said.

The Grant County Fair starts next Tuesday, Aug. 14, at 6:30 a.m. with the beef weigh-in at the Cattle Barn.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached via email at countygvt@columbiabasinherald.com.

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