In Western Montana, many areas, including Hamilton and Missoula, have over 20 Air Quality Stations that give us an hour-by-hour report on the "healthiness" of our atmosphere. The range goes between Good, Moderate, Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups, Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy, and Hazardous. The stations are maintained by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality and are very important for the mountainous part of the state, where wildfire smoke from fires to the west of Montana gets trapped in the valleys.

A recent Associated Press story noted that there are huge gaps throughout the rural areas of the U.S. where air quality monitors are needed. More studies have shown long-term effects from breathing wildfire smoke.

To help people deal with days of "bad air," Montana State University has sent out their Health Education and Research Bus, known as "HERB," to accompany "Shakespeare In The Parks" at their next performances. The van will include information and displays on how to make "do-it-yourself" air cleaners. Researchers Dan Autenrieth and Julie Hart of Montana Tech and Clay Comstock of Salish Kootenai College will talk about their research into wildfire smoke.

The van will be at the Shakespeare presentations Friday, August 27, in St. Ignatius and at Stodden Park in Butte on September 2. They'll open up at 5 p.m., an hour before the play is set to begin. The van is funded by the National Institutes of Health and has been operating since 2019. Susan Higgins, a community research associate with the Center for American Indian and rural Health Equity, said, "We so appreciate all that Montana Shakespeare in the Parks brings to our Montana communities, and we're happy to showcase HERB in conjunction with these two productions."

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