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 emergency rules regulating employee exposure to wildfire smoke for the summers of 2021 and 2022. L&I will issue a permanent rule in 2023. The rule applies to employees working outdoors for more than 15 minutes in an hour, not in buildings or enclosed vehicles. WSU must inform employees working outdoors of the wildfire smoke exposure health effects described above. WSU encourages employees with health conditions that may be negatively affected by smoke exposure to make arrangements for an accommodation in advance, if available, which could include an assignment to indoor work. Employees experiencing adverse health effects associated with smoke exposure are encouraged to seek medical treatment following established departmental leave policies.

WSU EH&S in Pullman, the Tri-Cities and Prosser utilize campus air quality monitors to evaluate current smoke conditions, this information is shared with students, faculty, staff and the public. When air quality deteriorates, or is expected to deteriorate with airborne PM 2.5 concentrations of 20.5 micrograms per cubic meter (ug/m3), EH&S will issue a notification. When air quality deteriorates to 35.5 ug/m3, departments MUST offer employees working outdoors N95 respirators for voluntary use and provide them the information concerning use of a respirator summarized in Appendix A of the new rule. Supervisors are encouraged to monitor PM 2.5 concentrations where they have outdoor workers, using campus resources, or via the Department of Ecology’s Air Monitoring Network for locations outside Pullman, the Tri-Cities and Prosser.

The following summarizes the action levels established by the emergency rule:

  • 20.5 ug/m3 = AQI 69: Inform employees of health effects, make accommodations where available, and encourage medical treatment for those negatively affected.
  • 35.5 ug/m3 = AQI 101: The above requirements, and offer outdoor workers N95 respirators for voluntary use, and provide the information concerning use of a respirator summarized in Appendix A of the new rule.
  • 250.5 ug.m3 = AQI 301: The above requirements, and N95 respirators must be distributed to outdoor workers for voluntary use, and provide the information concerning use of a respirator summarized in Appendix A of the new rule.
  • 500.4 ug/m3 = Respirator use required, personnel must be enrolled in WSU’s respiratory protection program. Note: This is an unlikely event.

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).