Blanket of stagnant air lingers over Washington

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SEATTLE (AP) — A high pressure ridge over the Northwest is likely to leave a blanket of stagnant air over Washington state until next week, leading to more burn bans and possible problems for people who already have trouble breathing, officials say.

The National Weather Service issued an air stagnation advisory Tuesday for most of the interior of Western Washington to go along with one already in effect east of the Cascade Mountains. The air stagnation was expected to worsen by today. The advisory extends through Friday morning.

“It’s a pretty strong ridge aloft” with warm air trapping colder air close to the ground in the inversion pattern typically responsible for smog building up on cold, dry winter days, meteorologist Jay Albrecht said.

“The sun is not really strong enough this time of year to break the inversion,” he said. “Down in the valleys here it can get pretty murky.”

Until the pattern changes, vehicle exhaust and wood smoke hang in the air. Some of the seven regional clean air agencies in Washington have already issued burn bans covering King, Pierce, Snohomish, Thurston, Clark and Yakima counties.

The state Ecology Department issued a burn ban Tuesday for Kittitas, Chelan, Douglas and Okanogan counties.

Pollution in some places has reached unhealthy levels at times for sensitive groups — people with breathing issues or illness, the elderly and young children, said Kimberley Kline, spokeswoman for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

The agency issued a Stage 2 burn ban Sunday in the counties that include Seattle, Tacoma and Everett. That bans burning in wood stoves and fireplaces, unless fire is the only source of heat in a home. Outdoor fires, including camp fires, also are banned. Violators could face a fine of up to $1,000. The agency eased the ban Tuesday to a Stage 1, which allows burning in wood stoves certified by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency inspectors drive around looking for smoke coming out of chimneys, Kline said. People who want to complain about their neighbors’ smoke can report them on the agency’s website.

Inspectors photograph the smoke and review it before mailing a violation notice to the home. They aren’t looking for confrontations or trying to make money for the agency, Kline said.

“We’re looking to start a conversation and begin an education,” she said.

The agency had more than 100 observation reports in an earlier ban over New Year’s, she said. This inversion could last longer.

“Air quality the next few days is going to be a concern so those who are sensitive should take precautions,” Kline said. “Those who like to have fires, please refrain until the pollution clears and we can all breathe easier again.”

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