A burning question

We know air pollution is not good for our lungs. It can cause asthma attacks, reduce our lung function, contribute to heart attacks, and even lead to death. Now a new study from the Harvard School of Public Health has found that air pollution also makes it harder for us to recover from COVID-19. The study shows that people who live for years in areas of the country with more particulate pollution in the air are more likely to die from COVID-19 than people who live in areas with less air pollution from particulates.

Father and son garden in the backyard.

One thing staying at home has taught us is that air pollution is something we have control over as a society. While we are struggling with job losses and school closures, the famously smoggy skies in Los Angeles are clear. NASA satellite data show a 30 percent drop in air pollution in the Northeast United States. We’ve seen similar improvements in air quality in other places in the world. This lesson comes at a high cost, but we know now that if we change our daily routines, we can change the world.

Outdoor burning can hurt air quality, and you

In Washington we are seeing overall improvement in levels of pollution, but there are areas where we see worsening particulate pollution. This is the kind of air pollution that comes from burning wood, garden waste, or brush. And this kind of pollution hurts everyone’s lungs, but it is especially bad for someone with COVID-19.

Outdoor burning is illegal in most urban areas, but it is legal to burn brush and yard waste in many rural settings. Even if it is legal where you live, please refrain from burning yard waste until the need for social distancing relaxes.

What can you do instead of burning?

According to our partners at the Washington Department of Ecology, chipping, mulching, and composting are the best choices. Here are some other options listed on their website:

  • Grasscycle. Leaving grass clippings on your lawn adds nutrients back into the soil and gives you a healthy, attractive lawn.
  • Composting. Most vegetation from yards can be turned into a beneficial resource by composting in a bin or a pile. Red wiggler worms can be used to create a rich worm compost for use in your garden.
  • Chipping. Chipping may be a great alternative to rid your lawn of trees and branches and provide your garden with free mulch.
  • Curbside pickup. Many cities and towns offer curbside collection of yard waste and organic household materials. Check with your local government or waste management company.
  • Community or neighborhood cleanup days. Community cleanups are events where your city or town provides free disposal of items, including yard waste. Look for the next cleanup day in your area.
  • Landfills. Many landfills offer reduced fees for yard waste.

In general, air quality is good

The good news is that air pollution levels in Washington are typically very low this time of year, according to the Department of Ecology’s air quality monitoring program, and the air has remained clean throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Even so, the effects of the crisis are noticeable: At the end of March, Ecology’s downtown Seattle air quality monitor showed a 38 percent reduction in carbon monoxide levels compared to recent years, and a 45 percent reduction in nitrogen oxides, likely due to the reduced traffic.

Practice compassion

Help keep the lungs of the more than 10,000 people in Washington struggling with COVID-19 healthy. Do your part and don’t burn. Cleaner air helps all of us.

More information

Stay tuned to our blog for more information on how you can help stop the spread of COVID-19. Sign up to be notified whenever we post new articles.

Information in this blog changes rapidly. Check the state’s COVID-19 website for up-to-date and reliable info at coronavirus.wa.gov.

Answers to your questions or concerns about COVID-19 in Washington state may be found at our website. You can also contact our call center at 1–800–525–0127. Hours: 6 am-10 pm, seven days a week.

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Washington State Department of Health

Washington State Department of Health

Protecting and improving the health of people in Washington State.