Unprecedented Poor Air Quality in New York Due to Canadian Wildfire Smoke; President Biden Issues Warning
Smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to envelop large parts of the American Northeast in a yellowish-gray haze. US authorities have issued warnings in various regions, expecting the situation to persist for several more days. In New York City, where the air quality is at its worst since records began, residents were urged on Wednesday to stay indoors, according to the *New York Times*.
President Joe Biden emphasized the importance of Americans exposed to dangerous air pollution, particularly those with health issues, to heed local authorities’ advice to protect themselves and their families. New York Governor Kathy Hochul described the situation as an “emergency crisis” and stated that the air pollution index in parts of her state was eight times higher than normal. Late Tuesday afternoon, smoke obscured the view of New Jersey on the other side of the Hudson River.
Origin of the Air Pollution
Smoke from fires in western Canada has been drifting into the United States for weeks. “May was a record-breaking warm month in large parts of Canada,” explained Eric James, a modeling expert at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado. However, it was the recent fires in Quebec that caused the dangerous haze on the US East Coast. The fires in eastern Canada are large and relatively close, only about 800 to 970 kilometers from the eastern US state of Rhode Island. James said he cannot recall fires of this magnitude in the past ten years.
How Can Smoke from Canada Reach New York?
Strong winds high in the atmosphere can transport smoke over long distances. However, the right circumstances had to come together for the haze to reach major US cities: a dry and hot spring laid the foundation, and the current weather did the rest, explained Bob Henson, a meteorologist at Yale Climate Change Connections. “It’s simply a matter of trajectory,” Henson said. “The smoke goes where the wind takes it.”
Is the Smoke Dangerous to Humans?
“Smoke can contain gases, carbon, and toxic metals,” said Rima Habre, an expert in air quality and exposure science at the University of Southern California. Much of what can be seen and measured in the air is small particles, so small that they can penetrate deep into the lungs.
Smoke from wildfires has been linked to increased rates of heart attacks and strokes, a rise in asthma and other respiratory diseases, eye irritation, itchy skin, and skin rashes. “Above all, we fear inflammation in the lungs,” Habre said.
However, most healthy adults and children will recover quickly from smoke exposure and experience no long-lasting health consequences, according to a report by the US Environmental Protection Agency. This does not apply to children with developing lungs, older adults, and people with lung diseases such as asthma.
The agency advises staying indoors and keeping doors, windows, and fireplaces closed. An air conditioner in recirculation mode can help filter out some particles.
Disruptions in Air Traffic and Canceled Events
The dense smoke significantly impairs visibility, forcing the US aviation authority to slow down air traffic, leading to average delays of about half an hour.
Due to poor air quality, several professional sports events in New York have been canceled, including the New York Yankees’ home game against the Chicago White Sox in Major League Baseball.
The New York Road Runners, a non-profit organization, canceled events scheduled for Global Running Day. New York City Mayor Eric Adams also warned, “Today is not the day to train for a marathon or attend an outdoor event with your children. If you already have existing heart or breathing problems or are an older adult, you should stay indoors.”
Schools along the entire East Coast canceled all outdoor activities, including sports, field trips, and breaks. In a Manhattan Home Depot branch, air purifiers and masks were sold out. Eyewitnesses reported that the air smelled like burning wood.