DANGEROUSLY dirty air caused by wildfires on the west coast of the United States is continuing to prove a risk to public health.

People in Oregon, Washington state and California have been struggling for a week or longer under some of the most unhealthy air on the planet, with experts saying it could last for weeks.

The smog can prove irritable to the eyes and lungs and residents are being urged to stay inside.

The hazy air has closed businesses and suspended rubbish collection in some communities.

“It is so bad that you can likely smell (smoke) inside your house,” said Sarah Present, a health officer in Washington state. She added “In some areas, the air quality is so hazardous it is off the charts of the EPA’s (Environmental Protection Agency) rating scale.”

“The lasting effects of breathing the small particulates in the wildfire smoke can be extremely dangerous,” Present added, “It can lead to heart attacks, irregular heart rhythms and even death.”

Officials have said that hospitals visits due to air quality have significantly increased.

Mark Parrington, a senior scientist and wildfire expert, said: “The scale and magnitude of these fires are at a level much higher than in any of the 18 years that our monitoring data covers, since 2003,”.

Parrington said the smoke thickness from the fires, known as aerosol optical depth (AOD), was immense.

“We have seen that AOD levels have reached very high values of seven or above, which has been confirmed by independent ground-based measurement,” he said. “To put this into perspective, an AOD of one would already indicate a lot of aerosols in the atmosphere.”