Health & Medicine

SLO County air quality alert: ‘Emergency-level’ dust blows west from Kern County

Dangerous levels of wind-blown dust are creating an air quality emergency in Kern County — and it’s affecting several areas of San Luis Obispo County, according to air quality officials and air quality monitors.

The San Luis Obispo County Air Pollution Control District issued an alert just after 5 p.m. Wednesday, warning of impacted air quality across the county.

As of Monday evening, monitors in Atascadero were reading high levels of PM10 — particulate matter that is smaller than 10 micrograms that can be hazardous to health.

While extremely high winds have fueled wildfires across the state, they’ve also created a health hazard for residents of the Central Valley.

“San Joaquin Valley air pollution officials are cautioning Kern County residents that emergency-level particulate matter concentrations may be reached during this high-wind event,” according to a news release from the APCD and the San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department.

Particulate matter, like dust, can harm your respiratory or cardiovascular system and is especially concerning for children, seniors and people with existing conditions.

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Residents in areas impacted by dust or wildfire smoke should stay indoors, close windows and doors, avoid outdoor activity and turn any air conditioning unit to recycle inside air.

If dust concentrations increase, healthy people could be affected as well.

If you experience a cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, exhaustion, light-hotheadedness or chest pain, stop any outdoor activity immediately and seek medical attention, the Public Health Department said.

The dust could also carry an increased risk of valley fever, something that California Air Resources Board member John Balmes is investigating.

“Those dust particles have health effects, and if they carry biological material with them too, those have health effects as well,” Balmes said Monday at a symposium about air quality in San Francisco.

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Monica Vaughan reports on health, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo County, oil and wildlife at The Tribune. She previously covered crime and justice in the Sacramento Valley, is a graduate of the University of Oregon journalism school and is a sixth-generation Californian. Have an idea for a story? Email: