Washington State University
Environmental Health & Safety Wildfire Smoke

Wildfire Smoke

Smoke from wildfires and other sources is a mixture of gases and fine particulates that can be harmful to your health.  Smoke may worsen symptoms for individuals who have pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma, allergies, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).  When smoke levels are high enough even healthy individuals may experience symptoms, and should avoid going outdoors.  Sensitive individuals with heart and/or lung diseases, diabetes, respiratory infections, strokes, infants and children, and adults older than 65 are even more susceptible to smoke, and should avoid going outside even when the smoke levels are acceptable for healthy individuals.


Beta Attenuation Monitor (BAM)

In an effort to provide current information to students, staff, faculty and visitors, WSU has installed Beta Attenuation Mass Monitors on the Pullman and Tri-Cities campuses, and at the Irrigated Agriculture Research Extension Center (IAREC) campus in Prosser. The BAMs monitor for Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), the primary pollutant associated with wildfire smoke. WSU provides the real-time data collected by these monitors on our WSU Air Quality website, to help everyone make informed decisions about their health. EH&S works with Facilities Services, Housing and Dining, UREC, Cougar Health Services, and Emergency Management to ensure information is disseminated.

WSU will install more monitors as recources become available, prioritizing locations most affected by wildfire smoke where additional PM 2.5 information would add the most value.

Employee Exposure to Wildfire Smoke aka PM 2.5

The Department of Labor and Industries adopted WAC 296-820 Wildfire Smoke in January 2024. The rule applies to all workplaces, including those with agricultural activity, where employees are assigned to work outdoors during wildfire smoke events. This policy does not apply to:

  • Enclosed buildings or structures where exterior openings such as doors and windows are kept closed except when necessary to enter or exit.
  • Enclosed vehicles where the air is filtered by a cabin air filter and doors and windows are kept closed except when necessary to enter or exit. Buses and other vehicles used for transit systems where doors are frequently opened for passengers are not included under this exemption.
  • Fire fighters.
  • Workers performing prescribed burns.
Safety Policy and Procedures Manual (SPPM) 2.63, WSU’s wildfire smoke policy identifies EH&S, Department, Unit, Supervisor and Employee responsibilities, adhering to WAC 296-820 requirements for a wildfire smoke response plan. Employees working outdoors and supervisors of outdoor workers must complete wildfire smoke training before working, or assigning employees to outdoor work when wildfire smoke affects air quality.
The following table summarizes wildfire smoke rule requirements:
Current PM2.5 (μg/m3) NowCast Air Quality Index (AQI)* Required Protections
0.0 – 20.4 0 – 71 •Prepare a written wildfire smoke response plan.

•Provide wildfire smoke training to employees.

•Monitor PM2.5 concentrations and forecasts.

•Identify a two-way communication system.

•Make provisions for prompt medical attention and permit that medical attention without retaliation.

20.5 – 35.4 72 – 100 All of the above and:
Notify employees of PM2.5 concentrations. Ensure only trained employees work outdoors. Consider implementing exposure controls. Consider providing voluntary use respirators.
35.5 – 250.4 101 – 350 All of the above and:
Implement exposure controls.​ Make N95 respirators available for voluntary use.​
250.5 – 500.3 351 – 848 All of the above and:
Ensure workers experiencing symptoms requiring immediate medical attention be moved to a location that ensures sufficient clean air. Directly distribute N95 respirators to employees for voluntary use.
500.4 – 554.9 849 – 956 All of the above and: Implement a complete required use respiratory protection program, including fit-testing, medical evaluations, requiring employees to be clean-shaven, and requiring the use of particulate respirators.​
 555 or more 957 – Beyond the AQI All of the above and:
Require respirators with an assigned protection factor (APF) of 25 or more.​

*Note: AQI values changed to reflect the May 6th, 2024 EPA updated index values.

WSU EH&S in Pullman, the Tri-Cities and Prosser utilize campus air quality monitors to monitor respirable airborne particulate (PM 2.5)/wildfire smoke concentrations, this information is shared with students, faculty, staff and the public. Other WSU locations may reference the Department of Ecology’s Air Monitoring Network for current PM 2.5/wildfire smoke concentrations.

Wildfire Smoke and Air Resources

The following Resources provide more information that can assist you with determining what the current outdoor air quality is in various locations in Washington, a Health Effects Index for different ranges of smoke and what it means for individuals, the WA Department of Ecology (DOE) Air Monitoring Web Site, various WA Department of Health (DOH) air quality web sites, and the Whitman County Public Health Department (WCHD).