New York City grapples with wildfire smoke from Quebec as health concerns rise

Jun 07, 2023 05:30 PM IST

The concerning surge in air pollution in New York City as smoke from over a hundred wildfires in Quebec blankets the region.

New York City witnessed a concerning surge in air pollution on Tuesday as smoke from over a hundred wildfires in Quebec drifted southward.

New York City ranks as the global leader in severe air pollution due to the southward drift of harmful smoke from over a hundred wildfires raging in Quebec.
New York City ranks as the global leader in severe air pollution due to the southward drift of harmful smoke from over a hundred wildfires raging in Quebec.

The persistent poor air quality caused by Canada's fires has raised significant health concerns in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions for over a week.

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At one point on Tuesday night, New York City's air quality index reached "very unhealthy" levels, topping the list of major metropolitan areas with the worst air quality, according to IQair.

Later that night, New York City ranked second in the world for air pollution, following New Delhi, India. Other cities on the list included Doha, Qatar; Baghdad, Iraq; and Lahore, Pakistan.

The impact of this air pollution extends beyond New York City.

At least 10 school districts in central New York State had to cancel outdoor activities and events, affecting academic, athletic, and extracurricular schedules.

The tiny particulate matter, PM2.5, found in wildfire smoke poses severe health risks, as it can penetrate deep into lung tissue and enter the bloodstream. Health issues associated with PM2.5 exposure include asthma, heart disease, and respiratory illnesses. Alarmingly, the concentration of PM2.5 in New York City's air on Tuesday exceeded the World Health Organization's guidelines by over ten times.

William Barrett, the national senior director of clean air advocacy at the American Lung Association, emphasized the importance of staying indoors during episodes of high pollution and monitoring any symptoms that may arise, particularly for vulnerable groups such as children, senior citizens, pregnant individuals, and those with respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.

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Barrette explained, “If you can see or smell smoke, know what you’re being exposed. And it’s important that you do everything you can to remain indoors during those high, high pollution episodes, and it’s really important to keep an eye on your health or any development of symptoms,” added, “are children, senior citizens, people who are pregnant or people with respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.”

“Really, make sure you take appropriate steps to check in with health care providers about any concerning symptoms that come up during these events,” the national senior director of clean air advocacy said.

Quebec is currently grappling with over 150 active wildfires, more than any other Canadian province.

In 2023 alone, Quebec has experienced twice the average number of wildfires for this time of year, scorching nearly 9 million acres across Canada.

The impact of the smoke is not limited to the Northeast, as air quality alerts were issued in parts of the Midwest as well. Detroit and Chicago were affected by the spread of wildfire smoke, with Detroit appearing in IQair's top 10 worst locations for air pollution on Tuesday afternoon.

The National Weather Service in Chicago stated, “Weather conditions are such that widespread ozone and or particulate levels are expected to be at or above the unhealthy for sensitive groups category of the air quality index.”

The exacerbation of wildfires can be attributed to human-caused climate change, which has contributed to hotter and drier conditions.

Recent scientific reports have linked the carbon pollution produced by the largest fossil fuel and cement companies to millions of acres burned in the Western US and Canada. The resulting smoke travels great distances, exposing millions of people to hazardous air quality.

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The urgent need to address climate change and its impact on wildfires is evident.

Glory Dolphin Hammes, CEO of IQAir North America, emphasized that wildfires are closely tied to climate change and unsafe conditions created by it. As the smoke continues to spread, a cold front is expected to push it further south and east throughout the week. Authorities are urging individuals, especially those in sensitive groups, to take precautions and limit outdoor activities to protect their health.

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