For Immediate Release
April 13, 2011

KDHE Office of Communications, 785-296-0461

Ozone levels heightened due to the Flint Hills burning

Weather conditions over the last two weeks have been conducive to burning grasslands in the Flint Hills area of Kansas. These burns are conducted to provide better forage for cattle and to help control invasive species such as Eastern Red Cedar and Sumac. Well planned and managed periodic burns can minimize fire safety danger and is a valuable tool for managing rangeland. They can, however, create air quality impacts when meteorological conditions do not provide for adequate dispersion of the pollutants formed by the burns. Air pollutants from the burns can affect persons in the Flint Hills and can be carried long distances to more populated areas.

KDHE air quality monitors measured readings that exceeded national air quality standards for ozone in Sedgwick and Linn counties on April 6 and in Shawnee County on April 12. Ozone is an air pollutant that is formed in the atmosphere by the reaction of gaseous pollutants that are emitted by the fires. The monitors also recorded higher than normal levels of particulate matter.

If you are healthy, you're usually not at a major risk from short-term exposures to smoke. Smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic matter burn. The fine particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, and illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particles and ozone can also aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases. Older adults and children are at highest risk for health problems especially those with underlying health conditions. There are ways to reduce exposure to smoke during the burning season and the related health impacts. It is important to limit your exposure to smoke, especially if you fall into one of the high-risk categories. Here are steps you can take to protect your health on days when smoke is present:

KDHE worked with many partners over the last year to develop the Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan to address the air quality impacts that result from the annual burning. The plan includes recommended burning practices to minimize and disperse the smoke produced by the fires. The plan was also the impetus for creation of a website, hosted by KSU Extension, that has a modeling tool to allow land managers to determine if meteorological conditions are good for dispersing smoke from fires they are planning. States with smoke management plans in place have the opportunity to submit a request to EPA to have the data “flagged” so it is not used in determining compliance with the air quality standard.

“While we are disappointed with the high readings over the last week, we are optimistic that as the smoke management plan provisions and the modeling tool are more widely used, these events will decline in the future,” said Tom Gross with the Bureau of Air.
For more information about the burning in the Flint Hills, the Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan and the modeling tool, please visit the following website: