The air quality index for Bend reached a level of 213 Friday morning, putting conditions into the “very unhealthy” range for the first time this summer, before returning to good conditions in the evening.

The “very unhealthy” level is designated with the color purple on the Department of Environmental Quality chart.

“When you’re talking about purple and higher, you’re talking about a situation where everyone could start seeing more serious health effects,” said Katherine Benenati, a spokeswoman with Oregon DEQ.

The agency had issued an air quality advisory until noon Friday, and was watching conditions closely to determine whether to extend the warning.

“We talked with the National Weather Service this morning. They are expecting conditions to clear,” Benenati said Friday. “We could see rising and falling levels over the weekend.”

Late afternoon Friday, the index had dropped to 121, firmly in the orange “unhealthy for sensitive groups” range. By the early evening, though, it was in the green, down to 44.

Doctors recommend that people limit outdoor activities, particularly vigorous exercise, when air quality worsens to avoid breathing in tiny particles that can get lodged deep in the lungs and cause breathing problems. The Oregon Health Authority recommends people stay indoors with doors and windows closed, use air conditioners set to recirculate air, and to avoid vacuuming.

“Once we hit that 150 on the air quality index is when we start to worry about the potential health effects of the air quality,” said Dr. Michael Schlepp, an internist with Summit Medical Group Oregon-Bend Memorial Clinic. “We try to start to recommend limiting outdoor exposure, and if you particularly have underlying pulmonary disease, like asthma or COPD, or any other pulmonary issues.”

Schlepp said that even healthy people could experience inflammation or irritation of the airways, coughing or wheezing once the index exceeds 200. Vigorous exercise in such conditions could increase the risk of breathing issues, he said.

“If levels are under 150, it’s probably safe to continue with the normal levels of exercise,” Schlepp said. “As it starts to push closer to 150 and above, even for athletes, you do have that increased risk of irritation that can occur.”

— Reporter: 541-633-2162, mhawryluk@bendbulletin.com

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