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Air quality: Noxious smoke eases over US but wildfires still major threat in Canada

The smoke has shifted south and west in the US impacting cities like Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Cleveland after enveloping New York for days

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent in New York
,Stuti Mishra,Ariana Baio
Saturday 10 June 2023 13:39 BST
Smoky haze from wildfires in Canada engulfed New York City on Wednesday

Smoke from hundreds of wildfires in Canada reached Europe on Friday after blanketing provinces and large parts of the United States in thick smoke this week.

And while the noxious smoke was finally easing over the northeast on Friday, the fires still posed a major threat.

More than 420 fires are raging across Canada from British Columbia in the west to Nova Scotia in the east. At least half of these fires are burning out of control, and tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from their homes.

While air quality improved in large cities like New York, Washington DC and Philadelphia on Friday, pollution increased across central and southern states including the cities of Chicago, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Global temperature rise, caused by emissions from burning fossil fuels, is leading to more large, erratic wildfires around the world. And it’s a vicious circle: the emissions pumped into the atmosphere by fires add to global heating, further drying out the land and vegetation, making it more susceptible to catching fire.


Formula 1 gives Montreal Grand Prix update amid wildfires in Quebec

Formula 1 insists next week’s Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal is not at risk despite wildfires in nearby regions.

More than 400 wildfires are raging in Canada which have led to mass evacuations in the Quebec region and officials warned this could be the country’s worst wildfire season on record, with over 6.7 million acres already scorched.

In Montreal, thick layers of smog have descended on parts of the city in the last few days but F1 insists next week’s race meet at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve (16-18 June) is set to go ahead as planned.

Kieran Jackson reports:

F1 gives Canadian Grand Prix update after smoke descends on Montreal

The Formula 1 race weekend at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal is scheduled to start next Friday

Ariana Baio9 June 2023 05:00

New York City hands out N95 masks to residents

Ariana Baio9 June 2023 06:00

New York’s AQI underground was way worse than what it was on the ground

New York City’s air quality index, or AQI, reached more than 400 on Wednesday, covering the city in a yellow haze.

While the scenes on the ground were apocalyptic, the situation underground was way worse, researchers have found.

Readings taken by New York University researchers shows the entrance of the Broadway-Lafayette station in Manhattan reached 612, according to Gothamist.

On the platform down below, the readings were much worse.

My colleague Alex Woodward has more details:

New York City’s air quality has plummeted. It may be worse underground

New York’s scramble to respond underscores a widening chasm between how governments are preparing for the climate crisis and how fast conditions are declining

Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 06:09

Fox News guests and hosts mock people for wearing masks to block dangerous wildfire smoke

Fox News hosts have pilloried residents of New York and Washington DC for wearing masks after raging wildfires in Canada enveloped the cities in acrid smoke.

The Ingraham Angle host Laura Ingraham brought on guest Steve Milloy, touted as a former Trump Environmental Protection Agency transition team member, who claimed that the thick orange smoke that clogged the New York skyline this week was harmless.

“This doesn’t kill anybody, this doesn’t make anybody cough. This is not a health event, this has got nothing to do with climate,” Mr Milloy claimed.

“Amazing,” Ingraham responded with a laugh.

Bevan Hurley reports:

Fox News hosts mock people for wearing masks to block dangerous wildfire smoke

‘Are they all snowflakes?’ Fox hosts Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro mock dire health warnings as NYC records worst air pollution readings in the world

Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 06:30

New York air quality improves as school and restaurants remain shut

After an apocalyptic couple of days with New York covered in orange haze, the air quality index of the Big Apple has been improved significantly for the time being.

The current status of NYC has been downgraded from “hazardous” on Wednesday, to “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” as the smoke from Canadian wildfires spreads further down south and west.

The changes could be temporary as hundreds of wildfires continue to rage in Quebec sending plumes of smoke out towards the Northeastern coast but for the time being the air in the city is the cleanest it has been since Monday.

Government advisory for Friday says vulnerable groups should still wear masks to protect themselves with AQI ranging between 100-150.

Haze and smoke continued to shroud Manhattan skyline on Thursday evening
Haze and smoke continued to shroud Manhattan skyline on Thursday evening (REUTERS)
Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 06:50

Washington DC air quality remain in red but expected to improve

Air quality in the US capital remained in "code red" early on Friday after getting downgraded from "hazardous" levels in the purple category on Thursday evening.

The AQI levels stand close to 150, which is unhealthy for people, especially vulnerable individuals.

The air quality is expected to improve a little more and reach code orange, which is still unhealthy for individuals at risk.

The change comes as smoke from the raging wildfires in Canada moves further south and west, worsening the air for more cities, but providing some relief to the northeastern coast.

The Washington Memorial stands in hazy smoke on Thursday
The Washington Memorial stands in hazy smoke on Thursday (Getty Images)
Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 07:20

What is code red, purple and orange air quality?

The Air Quality Index (AQI), presented on the Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow website, employs a colour-coded system to rank air quality on a 500-point scale, providing the public with an easy-to-understand assessment of the health effects of the surrounding air.

The lower end of the scale, which is green, represents healthy air, while the yellow signifies moderate levels of pollution. The higher ends, colour coded as orange, red and purple, represent unhealthy and hazardous conditions for all individuals.

The AQI takes into account some key measures of air pollution, such as particle pollution, ground-level ozone and gases like carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

With wildfire smoke flowing from Canada, these dangerous gases have increased in the atmosphere, particularly the fine particulate matter called PM2.5, which is a pollutant.

These pollutants can have various health impacts, often leading to respiratory system irritation, inflammation and the potential development of conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

This graph from AirNow shows the various levels of alerts and the colour codes associated.

The Air Quality Index (AQI), presented on the Environmental Protection Agency's AirNow website
The Air Quality Index (AQI), presented on the Environmental Protection Agency's AirNow website (Screengrab/AirNow)
Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 07:40

ICYMI: New York restaurants shut down amid smoky conditions

Restaurants in New York City have temporarily closed down as the city faces intense air quality issues due to the smoke from the Canadian wildfires.

Thick smoke enveloped the city on Wednesday resulting in a “hazardous” air quality index. People were encouraged to stay inside as much as possible and wear a mask when walking around outside.

“It seemed not great for our employees,” Stephanie Watanabe, co-owner of, Coast and Valley said to GrubStreet.

Watanabe said people were not interested in sitting outside and hanging out due to the dangerous air.

Several coffee shops and cafes closed in Brooklyn than usual to account for the smoke and on Thursday, they remained closed.

Other restaurants followed suit hoping to keep their employees safe on what would be a very slow service day.

Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 08:10

Biden sends firefighters to support Canada in wildfire battle

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that he was sending more than 600 US firefighters and support personnel, along with equipment, to help Canada tackle its more than 400 wildfires.

The president noted that wildfires “are intensifying because of the climate crisis”.

He also advised that Americans experiencing dangerous air pollution, especially those with health conditions, take steps to protect themselves.

Ariana Baio9 June 2023 08:30

Can you taste wildfire smoke?

While almost everyone can smell wildfire smoke, some people can taste it – according to University of Buffalo professor of biological sciences Kathryn Medler.

“There is a wide range in the number of tastebuds that we have on our tongues,” Ms Medler said. ”Children and some adults tend to have more and, as a result, they can have a more sensitive palette.”

For those that can taste the smoke particles, it may taste charred or a cigar-like flavor.

People can test it for themselves by plugging their nose and seeing if taste is still present.

Ariana Baio9 June 2023 09:00

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