80 million U.S. residents under air quality alerts as Canada wildfire smoke swings south again
A person rides a bicycle along the shore of Lake Michigan as the downtown skyline is blanketed in haze from Canadian wildfires Tuesday, June 27, 2023, in Chicago. | Kiichiro Sato/AP

Smoke from Canada’s wildfires in Ontario and Québec has dipped south into the U.S. once again, causing air quality alerts to be issued for more than 80 million people in the Midwest and parts of the East Coast, reported CNN. In some areas, people have been advised to remain indoors and beaches have been closed.

This has been the worst fire season ever recorded in Canada, with more than 257 of the 485 active wildfires yesterday burning out of control, the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre said, according to The New York Times.

The current air quality in Chicago, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and other cities in the Midwest stretching east is “very unhealthy,” according to AirNow.gov.

A white haze hung over Chicago, and residents were advised to stay indoors, CNN reported.

Chicago Park District said in a tweet that their camps and other programs would be held indoors “to the fullest extent possible.”

“I can feel like a burning in my throat,” Dalya Khuder told CNN affiliate WXYZ while visiting Detroit. “The air quality is just really bad and I don’t want that stuff in my lungs.”

According to Copernicus, part of the European Union space program, Canada has seen the highest annual emissions ever recorded as a result of the wildfires.

“There’s particularly poor air quality… over southern Wisconsin, Illinois, central Indiana, and also another area over southeast Michigan, Detroit, and northeast Ohio around Cleveland,” National Weather Service meteorologist Byran Jackson said on Wednesday, as reported by PBS. “This is particularly thick smoke.”

The smoke and poor air quality were again headed for New York and other East Coast locations.

“Another round is going through western New York, western Pennsylvania later today,” Jackson said. “And then that continues over the northern Mid-Atlantic. It will persist there into Thursday.”

Air quality alerts were also in effect in Washington, DC, and parts of North Carolina, Reuters reported.

About 16 million acres have already been burned by the wildfires in Canada — an area slightly larger than the state of West Virginia.

People living in areas where an air quality alert has been issued, especially elderly people, children, and those with respiratory illnesses, have been urged to stay inside, wear a mask and limit heavy or prolonged exertion.

“Don’t generate extra particles indoors if you can,” said Dr. Peter Moschovis, a pulmonologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, as reported by NBC News. “So, smoking, vaping, burning incense, aerosolized essential oils — all those things aren’t good for your lungs at baseline.”

The most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report said conditions that are hot, dry, and windy make fires more likely, and these conditions will occur more frequently if the climate crisis continues to worsen.

In a study from 2018, Canadian scientists found that, since 1959, there has been a marked increase in the amount of large fires in the country, and that the fire season has begun about a week earlier and ended a week later.

“We know that human-induced climate change is warming Canada at about twice the global average rate,” said Nathan Gillett, a research scientist at the Canadian government’s environment department,” as BBC Future reported.

This article was reposted from EcoWatch.

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Cristen Hemingway Jaynes
Cristen Hemingway Jaynes

Cristen Hemingway Jaynes covers the environment, climate change, oceans, the Arctic, animals, anthropology, astronomy, plastics pollution, and politics. She holds a JD and an Ocean & Coastal Law Certificate from the University of Oregon School of Law.