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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.


Why wildfires are raging in Canada?

Canada is dealing with a series of intense wildfires that have spread from the western provinces to Quebec, with hundreds of forest fires burning.

The smoke has travelled into the United States, resulting in a number of air quality alerts issued since May.

Although it's not unusual for Canada to suffer from wildfires, this year is turning out to be the worst on record for the country. Scientists said the climate crisis is making such phenomena more frequent and intense.

Scott Duncan, a London-based meteorologist, said "extreme and prolonged hot and dry conditions in Canada" have made it "effortless for wildfires to rage".

"Canada was at the epicentre of the most significant heat anomaly on the planet in May," he noted.

Last month was the second warmest May on record for the global average temperature. So far this year, large parts of Asia, Europe and the Americas have suffered an unusually early heatwave that scientists have attributed to the climate crisis.

Here's a summary of what started the Canada wildfires, what's being evaluated and some suggested precautions:

Stuti Mishra8 June 2023 09:30

Meanwhile in Hawaii

New York isn’t the only place dealing with a big environmental challenge.

Kilauea, the volcano on Hawaii‘s Big Island, erupted early Wednesday morning.

The US Geological Survey captured the drama of the eruption at the volcano’s Halema’uma’u crater, where lava leaped into the air from the maw of the mountain.

The agency said the eruption poses no risk to the public, and noted that lava has not been ejected further than the crater’s floor. It did raise the volcano alert warning to red, noting that ash resulting from the disruption could pose a risk to aviators.

Graig Graziosi has the story.

Kilauea erupts on Hawaii’s Big Island sparking aviation red alert

The volcano’s last eruption began in early January and lasted until March

Josh Marcus8 June 2023 09:50

New York giving away 1m N95 masks ask smoke problems continue

New York officials will be distributing 1 million masks in the coming days as wildfire smoke continues to pose health risks.

Here’s more info from Governor Kathy Hochul.

Josh Marcus8 June 2023 10:10

How to check the air quality near you

AirNow, a site from the federal government, has an easy-to-use public website listing air quality across the US.

You can find it here.

Josh Marcus8 June 2023 10:30

Raging wildfires burning 'critical infrastructure' in Canada

Hundreds of uncontrolled forest fires continue to blaze across Canada, threatening critical infrastructure, forcing evacuations and sending a blanket of smoky air wafting over Canadian and US cities.

"Across the country as of today, there are 414 wildfires burning, 239 of which are determined to be out of control," he told a briefing. The giant eastern province of Quebec is among the worst affected."

"We've ... seen continued impacts to critical infrastructure in Quebec such as roads and rural closures, telecommunication interruptions and high voltage power lines being threatened by the growing fires," said federal minister of emergency preparedness Bill Blair.

Stuti Mishra8 June 2023 10:55

Wildfires have burned '15 times more area' than 10-year average

Wildfires are common in Canada’s western provinces, but this year, flames have mushroomed rapidly in the country’s east, making it the worst-ever start to the season.

About 3.8 million hectares (9.4 million acres) have already burned, officials said.

This is equivalent to about 15 times the 10-year average, federal minister of emergency preparedness Bill Blair said.

Stuti Mishra8 June 2023 11:10

Current New York air quality 'worse than after 9/11 attacks'

The air quality in New York has plummeted to its worst point since at least the 1980s as smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to engulf the city.

From last three days the city has been blanketed in a toxic orange haze. At one point on Wednesday, New York's air quality index rose to above 350, which is considered “very hazardous”.

Currently the index has recovered a bit but still remains at 177 in the "very unhealthy category".

Describing the historic levels of pollution on Wednesday, Fox Forecast Centre meteorologist Brian Mastro said the air quality was "even worse than after the September 11 attacks" but said the air was fortunately less toxic than the debris cloud from the terror attack.

Stuti Mishra8 June 2023 11:30

Air quality index for New York, Pennsylvania and Washington to plummet further

Poor air quality is expected to continue onto Thursday, especially for New York City, Pennsylvania and Washington, experts said.

The bulk of smoke from the eastern Canada wildfires is expected to expand towards the Mid-Atlantic, causing major northeast US cities to feel the brunt once again.

Some places further south can see more smoke today with an impact expected as far as South Carolina.

While some predictions said NYC might get some relief by Thursday evening, US National Weather Service meteorologist Bryan Ramsey said "conditions are likely to remain unhealthy for at least the next few days", with no end in sight for the wildfires.

Stuti Mishra8 June 2023 12:00

Cities with the worst air quality in the US

As the entire northeastern US continues to be blanketed by grey haze from raging wildfires in Quebec, many cities have seen their air quality index plummet.

Some of the worst scenes have been witnessed in New York, which saw the air quality index rise up above 350 briefly yesterday, but several other cities are bearing the brunt as well, with toxic smoke prompting health advisories.

Here is a list of major cities that currently have some of the worst levels of pollution in the US:

New York

The Big Apple continues to be in the “very unhealthy” category with the air quality index currently standing at 185. The city’s authorities have urged residents to limit outdoor exposure and wear N95 masks to protect themselves.


With an AQI of 263, Philadelphia remains one of the polluted cities in the US currently, as nearby areas in Pennsylvania also suffer from toxic smoke. The PM2.5 concentration in Philadelphia is currently 42.7 times the WHO’s annual air quality guideline value.

Washington and Baltimore

The US capital and the adjoining Baltimore city are both suffering from high levels of air pollution with the air quality index currently rating them at 220 and above. The levels, considered “very unhealthy”, are expected to worsen over the day as more toxic plumes flow inwards.


Following New York, Detroit remains the most polluted city in the US for last two days, currently standing at the fifth spot in IQAir’s list of most polluted metropolitan cities worldwide.The Michigan city currently has an air quality rating of 155.

Stuti Mishra8 June 2023 12:30

Aerial photos reveal the scale of devastating Canadian wildfires

Aerial view of wildfires between Chibougamau and the Mistissini Indigenous community in northern Quebec (HANDOUT/AFP via Getty Images)
NASA’s Earth Observatory photo shows smoke billowing from fires near Shelburne, Nova Scotia, Canada. (NASA Earth Observatory/AFP via G)
A burnt landscape caused by wildfires is pictured near Entrance, Wild Hay area, Alberta, Canada (AFP via Getty Images)
Aerial view of the Pigeon Creek wildfire near Peachland, British Columbia, Canada (BC Wildfire Service/AFP via Gett)
Stuti Mishra8 June 2023 13:00

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