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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 10, 2018

CONTACT
Judi Yorges, DHHS, 402-471-6585
Brian McManus, Department of Environmental Quality, 402-471-4223

 
DHHS Unveils New Smoke Advisory System for Flint Hills Burns
 

The Department developed a public smoke advisory system & released first advisory

LINCOLN, NE – Today the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced the development of a public smoke advisory system for the Flint Hills burns. The advisories will be issued when conditions make it likely that the smoke from the burns could affect air quality in parts of Nebraska.

These advisories are being developed in cooperation with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department, the Douglas County Health Department, the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, and information provided by the State of Kansas.

The current smoke advisory is here.

Large areas of the Flint Hills rangeland in Kansas and Oklahoma are burned during the spring to provide better forage for cattle, to help preserve the tallgrass prairie and to control invasive plant species such as Eastern Red Cedar and Sumac. Prescribed burning minimizes risk of wildfires and is effective in managing rangeland resources. Smoke from the fires negatively impacts the air quality of downwind areas.

Weather conditions can affect the timing of the prescribed burns and has the potential to impact Nebraska’s air quality. During a typical year, about 2.4 million acres are burned in the Kansas portion of the Flint Hills region.  Due to drought conditions in the past two months, and recent wet and windy conditions, only 215,000 acres have been burned in the Kansas Flint Hills region so far this year.  This could mean that there will be higher concentrations of burning in the upcoming two weeks, depending on weather conditions.

If state and local agencies determine that the likelihood of smoke may impact the air quality in Nebraska, DHHS will issue a joint advisory, to make the public aware.  These advisories will be based on data provided by the State of Kansas, smoke plume modeling, and from air quality monitors that are located in Beatrice, Lincoln, and Omaha.  The advisory indicates the conditions are such to warrant notification.

In addition to the joint advisory from DHHS, the Lincoln-Lancaster Health Department and the Douglas County Health Department may also subsequently issue information to advise citizens of air quality in their jurisdictions.

Smoke from prescribed burns can cause health problems, including burning eyes, runny nose, coughing and illnesses such as bronchitis. Individuals with respiratory issues, such as asthma and COPD, pre-existing heart or lung diseases, children and the elderly may experience worse symptoms.

Steps to protect your health on days when smoke is present in your community include:

  • Keep doors and windows closed and run air conditioners with HEPA filters.
  • Keep hydrated by drinking lots of water.
  • Limit or avoid strenuous outdoor exercise.
  • People with respiratory or heart related illnesses should remain indoors.
  • Contact your doctor if you have symptoms such as chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath or severe fatigue.
  • Be sure to refer to the latest smoke advisory for additional information.
    For current conditions of Nebraska’s air quality and tomorrow’s forecast, visit:  https://www.airnow.gov/.
  • Follow DHHS on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about how the agency is helping people live better lives.

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