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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.


New York Public Schools move to remote learning

Public schools in New York have moved classes in session on Friday to remote learning.

“For schools serving grades 9-12 and 6-12 in Districts 1-32 and 79: Students and staff in these schools were scheduled to attend school in-person on 9 June, we are shifting to remote instruction,” NYC Public Schools tweeted.

“Additional guidance will be shortly forthcoming to instructional staff,” they added.

Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 09:30

Where are the wildfires burning in Canada?

More than 400 wildfires are burning throughout Canada, causing mass evacuations, fire damage and smoky conditions throughout the east coast of US.

The fires, ranging from 233 “out of control” wildfires to 114 “under control” blazes, are unprecedented, even for the typical Canadian wildfire season.

According to the Canada Drought Monitor, nearly all 10 provinces have experienced abnormal dryness.

My colleague Ariana Baio tells you where the wildfires are burning in Canada:

Where are wildfires burning in Canada right now?

There are over 400 wildfires burning throughout provinces of Canada

Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 09:50

Smoke moves south covering Midwest and Ohio Valley

Smoke from raging wildfires in Canada is moving southwards, covering large parts of the Midwest, bringing "moderate to unhealthy air quality", the National Weather Service (NWS) said.

“Smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to be transported south by winds into the US resulting in moderate to unhealthy air quality across parts of the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Ohio Valley, and Midwest on Friday. Some improvement is expected this weekend,” the NWS said in a tweet.

The movement in air has led to some relief for New York City and parts of the Northeastern coast. However, experts said pollutants still remain in the atmosphere and may take time to clear.

Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 10:00

Smoke forecast for Friday

The smoke forecast for Friday shows grey hazy plumes from Canadian wildfires spreading down south and drifting westwards, bringing "moderate to unhealthy air quality" for large parts of the Midwest and southern states.

According to the maps on EPA's AirNow website, yellow and orange level pollution is set to cover parts of Georgia, Louisiana Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and Illinois.

Forecast shows smoke bringing code yellow and orange alerts to much of the southern and midwestern parts (Screengrab/AirNow)

However, the wind is also moving the heavy plumes of smoke away from New York, improving the air quality a little but experts say the pollutants will take time to clear off.

Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 10:38

New York air quality has improved slightly but will this last?

Air quality in New York City has improved to its best state since Monday as wind systems blow smoke from Canadian wildfires away from the Big Apple which has been blanketed in an orange haze for the last three days.

The smoke is forecast to move southwards and westwards as it brings “unhealthy” air to more people in the United States as millions of people in New York, Washington and Philadelphia may see slightly improved conditions.

The pollutants in the environment still persist, and the air is dangerous for vulnerable people with AQI expected to be in the range of 100-150 today.

But the worst may still not be over for New York and the northeastern coast as wildfires continue to rage in Canada.

US National Weather Service meteorologist Bryan Ramsey earlier on Wednesday said the wind movement can bring some relief to the east coast, but as long as the fires continue to burn, the conditions are “likely to remain unhealthy”.

“Conditions are likely to remain unhealthy, at least until the wind direction changes or the fires get put out,” Mr Ramsey told Associated Press.

“Since the fires are raging — they’re really large — they’re probably going to continue for weeks. But it’s really just going be all about the wind shift.”

Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 11:00

Ontario premier under fire for blaming ‘campfires’ instead of climate crisis for devastating wildfires

Doug Ford, the Premier of Ontario, is facing mounting criticism for refusing to acknowledge the impact of the climate crisis on the unprecedented wildfires in Canada and failing to take action by banning campfires.

Mr Ford claimed a report he heard attributed 50 per cent of the fires to lightning strikes and the other 50 per cent to people not extinguishing their campfires properly.

“So I’m asking every Ontarian, please do not light any campfires,” Mr Ford said.

Still, Mr Ford did not enact a fire ban.

Ariana Baio has more:

Ontario Premier slammed for asking people to stop campfires instead of issuing ban

Approximatley 50 wildfires are currently burning in Ontario, Canada

Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 11:30

White House postpones South Lawn Pride event due to smoke cover

The White House has postponed a Pride event that was set to take place on the South Lawn because of the smoke from the wildfires in Canada enveloping the nation’s capital.

The event that was scheduled for Thursday is now planned for Saturday. It’s set to be the largest Pride Month celebration in White House history as the Biden administration attempts to push back against the Republican Party’s measures to restrict the rights of the LGBT+ community on the state level.

Gustaf Kilander has more details:

White House postpones Pride event because of Canadian wildfire smoke enveloping DC

DC air quality is ‘very unhealthy for all due to ongoing smoke from fires in Canada,’ Washington Metro Council says

Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 12:00

Do air purifiers work?

In the face of deteriorating outdoor air quality in more parts of the United States as smoke from Canadian wildfires spreads south and west, several air quality health alerts are in place affecting millions of people.

Members of the public, especially children and those who are vulnerable, are urged to stay indoors and limit outdoor smoke exposure. However, indoor air pollution can be a significant concern as well with pollutants from outside entering our houses. This is where air purifiers come into play, promising to remove harmful pollutants and improve indoor air quality.

But how effective an air purifier is in achieving cleaner and healthier indoor environments depends on several factors.

Air purifiers are designed to target specific pollutants, such as dust, pollen, pet dander, smoke, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Different air purifier models employ various filtration technologies, such as High-Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) filters, activated carbon filters, or electrostatic precipitators.

With raging wildfires, the fine particulate matter which is known as PM2.5 is increased, that is known impact respiratory system and cause cardiovascular diseases.

A good quality HEPA filter an cut smoke pollution indoors by about 50 to 80 per cent, some estimates suggest.

Air purifiers with HEPA filters can also be beneficial for individuals suffering from allergies. They can effectively trap and remove common allergens such as pollen, dust mites, mould spores, and pet dander, providing relief for allergy sufferers and improving overall comfort.

While activated carbon filters play a crucial role in eliminating unpleasant odours and reducing exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other harmful chemicals.

To maximise the effectiveness of air purifiers, it is also important to consider the size of the purifier in relation to the room, as well as the Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) and air changes per hour (ACH) specifications.

Regular maintenance, such as filter replacements and proper cleaning, is essential to ensure optimal performance.

(Getty Images)
Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 12:30

All the dos and don’ts to keep safe from wildfire smoke

The smoke from wildfires is spreading across to more areas in the United States, bringing "unhealthy" conditions, after covering New York City in an orange haze for days.

Many officials have urged people to limit their time outdoors and wear masks to protect themselves from the smoke as the air remains particularly dangerous for vulnerable people and children.

Amidst an ongoing climate crisis, many climate scientists warn that wildfires could become more frequent and intense, leading to more air pollution.

Wildfire smoke carries a number of pollutants that can pose a number of risks and hazardous effects.

My colleague Meredith Clark has this list of dos and don’ts to help keep yourself safe during the worsening air quality alert situation across the country.

How to stay safe from wildfire smoke

How to stay safe from wildfire smoke

Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 13:00

ICYMI: Mesmerising drone footage shows New York skyline blanketed in orange haze

Mesmerising drone footage shows New York skyline blanketed in orange haze
Stuti Mishra9 June 2023 13:30

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