Here’s how Canada’s wildfires are hurting US air quality

By | June 6, 2023

A person jogs in a Brooklyn park on a foggy morning caused by the Canadian wildfires on June 6 in New York City.

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Dozens of wildfires are burning in the Canadian province of Qubec, and the smoke is so intense it’s causing air quality problems across large swathes of the U.S.

The National Weather Service said so air quality has “plunged” throughout the Northeast.

Officials from the Midwest to the East Coast and as far north as North Carolina are warning residents to take precautions as the hazy smoke drifts south and poses a public health risk.

Canada has experienced a particularly brutal fire season this year, as extreme weather conditions are worsening in part due to climate change. Fires have recently raged in Alberta, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

Previous fires have also sent smoke into the neighboring United States, and Canadian officials warn that the country’s fire situation could worsen as the summer progresses.

“This is a scary time for many people, not just in Alberta, but across the country, including in the Atlantic, North and Quebec,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a news conference on Monday.

Canada is in the midst of a particularly bad fire season

There have been 2,214 wildfires across Canada so far this year, according to Emergency Preparedness Minister Bill Blair. The flames burned 3.3 million hectares or more than 8 million acres.

The country is currently battling 413 fires, 249 of which are classified as out of control, and around 26,000 people remain displaced from their homes.

More than 150 wildfires are raging across Qubec, many of which are burning out of control, according to the province’s forest protection service. The authorities have restricted access to parts of the forest and closed some roads.

Although officials said they hope rainfall expected later in the week will help suppress the fires, blazes were still sending smoke across the United States on Tuesday.

Smoke from Canadian bushfires blankets some US states

The Environmental Protection Agency and New England state officials expected smoke from the fires to hang over the region for a few days.

Poor air quality advisories were in effect for all or parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.

New York issued a health advice on air quality Tuesday for fine particulate matter in many parts of the state, including the New York City metro area.

Some Midwestern states were under threat from wildfire smoke, with air quality advisories in states including Minnesota, Wisconsin AND Indiana.

Southern states were also affected. Charlotte, North Carolina and nearby areas were under a code orange day of action on air quality on Tuesday.

According to AirNow, an air quality database maintained by several federal agencies, moderate air quality and unhealthy air quality for some groups was also recorded in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and several other states.

Here’s what a disaster preparedness expert should do

“How worried you should be has a lot to do with your situation,” Jeff Schlegelmilch, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, told NPR.

Not everyone is equally vulnerable to poor air quality, he said. It can be especially harmful for certain groups, including those with heart and lung disease, the elderly, and pregnant people. Poorer communities, already at higher risk of diseases that can be exacerbated by unsafe air, are also less able to pay for the protective measures needed to protect themselves from exposure.

The severity of poor air quality can also vary, which is why many agencies use color-coded systems (green is typically the best, while red is the worst) to communicate how bad the air is in a particular place. at any given moment.

Still, Schlegelmilch says everyone should heed officials’ warnings about poor air quality. Common recommendations include staying indoors and using an air filter, wearing a mask like an N95 when outside, and avoiding strenuous activity.

“If you have an air quality red alert, it’s probably not the time to go out and jog or run,” she said, “because you’re breathing in more air and you’re breathing in more air more deeply.”

Schlegelmilch says people should treat poor air quality as an ongoing health issue rather than a one-time event, as extreme weather will only get worse in the future, and repeated exposure to low levels of poor air quality will also air can have a cumulative negative impact on your health.

“I think it’s really important that we think about these things like we do any other kind of health or hygiene process. It’s a process. It’s not a moment in time that we take a specific action and we’re protected,” she said.

“When air quality is bad, we have to take some of these protective measures for ourselves, both short-term and long-term.”


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