Smoky Haze May Impact Some Residents' Health During Spring Burning

By: Stephanie Diffin Email
By: Stephanie Diffin Email

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April 8, 2011

As ranchers and farmers burn off prairie grass this time of year, wind blowing from the east and northeast can cause smoke in the Flint Hills to create a haze over the Wichita area.

This year, that haze is raising the question of whether smoky skies are hazardous to your health, as the wind has been just right to allow smoke to reach for miles over the Wichita area.

"It's [been] pretty hazy on a few occasions here in the last week or two," said Wichita-area resident Larry Perry.

"It's been more dramatic in Wichita this year over all the other years," said east Wichita resident Charlie Harkness.

Harkness is a lung cancer survivor. So for him, a smoky haze can be a problem.

"It is if it's really thick, like yesterday," said Harkness. "It was really bad. I went home early, took it easy."

Staying home is exactly what doctors say people like Harkness should do, as smoke can be especially irritating to those with lung conditions including asthma and emphysema.

"Those people are going to feel that more and may get that chronic condition to flare up," said Wichita Clinic Physician Charlie Green, MD.

But doctors say even the average, healthy person may feel a difference when smoke is in the air. Although they say it shouldn't cause any serious ailments.

"You'll probably not get [really] sick from it as far as an infection, but more of just an irritation that may trigger a cough and runny nose and those types of things," said Green.

And although some say burning is bothersome, many also say it's expected.

"I think the prairie grass does need to be burned in order to get rid of the weeds. I don't think the chemical thing is the way to go at it," said Perry.

"They've gotta do it, they've gotta do it," said Harkness.

Doctors say people who are bothered by the smoke should also avoid outdoor exercise on days when the haze is present. Patients with chronic lung disease may also speak to their physicians about wearing masks that may help filter out the smoke.

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