New York City has become one of the most polluted cities in the world as smoke from Canadian wildfires enters the United States.
According to IQAir, which provides real-time air quality information, New York City was ranked at the top along with Kuwait City as the most polluted city as of 4:03 a.m. ET on June 7, with an Air Quality Index (AQI) score of 170, a level classified as “unhealthy.”
By 8:40 a.m. ET, New York was second in the list, with Detroit in the fourth position.
At one point on the evening of June 6, the AQI hit 200, bordering on “very unhealthy.”
“If you’re a New Yorker with heart or breathing issues, be careful when you’re outdoors. Smoke from wildfires in Canada is impacting our city’s air, so an Air Quality Health Advisory has been issued. Try to limit outdoor activities today to the absolute necessities,” the City of New York wrote in a June 6 Twitter post.
According to AirNow, which reports air quality using the official U.S. AQI, the level of PM2.5, tiny particulate matter that is generally 2.5 micrometers and smaller, was at 182 as of 4:45 a.m. ET, a level classified as “unhealthy.”
When inhaled, PM2.5 can travel deep into the lung tissues and eventually enter the bloodstream. PM2.5 has been tied to a number of health issues, such as heart disease, asthma, and other respiratory illnesses.
Marshall Burke, a professor at Stanford, wrote in a June 6 Twitter post that the “very high levels” of particulate matter in much of the eastern United States for thousands of miles are at levels “way above normal.” He said that NYC’s PM2.5 levels on June 6 were the “second highest since 2006.”
Multiple Places Affected, EPA Alert
Other places in the United States, such as Detroit, have also been affected by the smoke coming in from the Canadian wildfires. From the U.S. Northeast to the Midwest and Texas, air quality advisories were issued that affected up to 100 million people across the country.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection issued an air quality alert for residents in the state on June 7.
“Levels of fine particulates will rise into the unhealthy for sensitive groups category statewide on Wednesday and potentially extend into the evening hours due to wildfire smoke transport from eastern Canadian wildfires,” the agency said in a June 6 Facebook post.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, air quality in places such as Boston, Providence, and New Bedford was expected to remain at “unhealthy” levels on June 7.
“During the times that significant smoke is in your area, it is recommended that people with pre-existing medical conditions remain indoors with windows closed while circulating indoor air with a fan or air conditioner,” the agency stated in a June 5 alert.
An April 17 post by the American Lung Association highlighted a study of 545 U.S. counties between 2000 and 2007 that found that people had roughly four months added to their life expectancy on average when the air was cleaner.
Smoke Forecast in United States, Fire in Canada
There is uncertainty as to how long the Canadian wildfires will last and how much the United States will be exposed to smoke. The smoke exposure depends on the direction of the wind.
According to a June 6 analysis by The Washington Post, an “even worse” round of wildfire smoke could move out from southern Canada on June 7, driven by a cold front moving north to south. As a result, the states of New York and Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic region are expected to see “very poor air quality.”
From June 9 to 10, winds are expected to turn more northwesterly. Though this may not clear out the smoke fully, it can reduce the concentration of fine particulate matter while improving sky conditions and air quality.
According to a June 7 update by the National Weather Service, “hazy conditions are likely to continue through Wednesday evening” in New York.
In Canada, there were 423 active fires as of 6 a.m. ET on June 7, according to data from the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center. At least twenty-six new fires began that day.
Of those 423 fires, 104 were deemed to be “under control,” 73 were “being held,” and 246 were “out of control.” Canada has seen 2,305 fires year-to-date, with 4 million hectares being burned.