With air quality at the ‘Unhealthy’ stage in Missoula and ‘Very Unhealthy’ south of Missoula into Hamilton, the Missoula City-County Health Department is recommending that school children be kept inside.

We spoke to Air Quality Specialist Sarah Coefield on Monday morning about the extremely bad air quality Monday.

“We have unhealthy air quality throughout Missoula County right now from smoke that is currently sitting in our area trapped under a high-pressure ridge as well as a really strong inversion,” began Coefield. “That's just going to keep conditions really stable and really smoky, really all day today. As you go further south, it just gets a lot worse. So if you are down closer to Hamilton, the air quality down there today has been ‘Very Unhealthy’ this morning into ‘Hazardous’ even for a little while, where they have smoke piling up from fires that are near that area down in the Bitterroot.”

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Coefield told us that the Health Department issues ‘guidance’ for the local schools when air quality gets into the ‘Unhealthy’ area.

“The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has guidance out for schools which are listed as ‘guidance’ rather than ‘requirements’ for schools that they look at the air quality and when it is unhealthy that they do not hold outdoor recess or PE (physical education) or practices or games, and rather do those physical activities inside in a place with a cleaner indoor air.”

Coefield said she hopes that the western Montana school districts will take note of the guidance and recommendations.

“I would hope that anybody who is looking at this air quality and thinking about the health and well-being of themselves and their athletes would take those measures to not expose anybody to this air quality unnecessarily,” she said.

We also reached out to Missoula County Public Schools Communications Director Tyler Christensen who provided this statement.

“MCPS does follow the health department's recommendations when it comes to air quality concerns,” said Christensen. “We monitor the information that they put out and when it dips into a category of being unhealthy, then we follow their recommendations to move recesses indoors and cancel any events that can only take place outdoors.”

The Missoula City-County Health Department issued a statement that included this note.

‘Air quality is currently Unhealthy across Missoula County.  It gets worse as you go farther south: Conditions are currently Very Unhealthy in Hamilton. If you’re in the mood for a road trip, the nearest Good air is east of Billings.’

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