As wildfires race across the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia to Quebec, the northeastern part of the US has been taking in most of the smoke. As the haze tints the evening moon deep red, the skylines of NYC are being blotted out and serving as a massive eye and nose irritant. With red flag warnings and strong haze blocking out the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains from Cleveland, OH through to Buffalo, NY, and eastward.
While smoke from the Canadian wildfires in the western provinces has been rolling across the land and into the US for months now, it is the more recent fires in Quebec that have been causing most of the haze in the US. With wildfires raging unchecked for the last few days, authorities have predicted the smoke will hang around until at least mid-June.
While environmental advisors are not alarmed as these wildfires are normal, the smoke hanging out at such low altitudes is not so normal. Usually, it settles in closer to the upper atmosphere. As a result, many respiratory experts are recommending that people limit their outdoor exposure and time breathing the raw air. With kids on their summer break and the limited time for unspoiled outdoor activities, both kids and parents are ready for this to be over.
Dr. David Hill, a pulmonologist in Waterbury, Connecticut, as well as a cornerstone member of the American Lung Association’s National Board of Directors, is incredibly concerned about fine-particle air pollution. Also known as “PM 2.5,” how much it can irritate the lungs despite its minute size is amazing.
“We have defenses in our upper airway to trap larger particles and prevent them from getting down into the lungs. These are sort of the right size to get past those defenses. When those particles get down into the respiratory space, they cause the body to have an inflammatory reaction to them.”
His worry is very well founded. Similar style particles have been reported in the smoke from burn pits in the middle east as well as with other wildfires in the past. These particles have caused severe respiratory problems for humans and our food. Given the number of dairy farms in the area, as well as crops that depend on this early summer sun, this smoke-induced haze presents a massive problem that goes beyond simple day-to-day activities.
For babies through young kids and senior citizens as well as those with breathing problems, they are the most at risk of problems.
Those who must be outside are being encouraged to break out their COVID masks and to keep their lungs clear. This also means keeping windows and fireplaces shut. For many without central air, this presents a dangerous and unique problem as they have no good way to keep their house cool and the air moving than to open the windows and turn on the box fan.
For those with central air, Hill cautions that they need to be prepared. “If you have filters on your home HVAC system, you should make sure they’re up to date and high quality. Some people, particularly those with underlying lung disease or heart disease, should consider investing in air purifiers for their homes.”
As anyone who lives in the western US can tell you, these smokey and hazy days are no joke. As they take a massive toll on your breathing and vision, they also tend to wear on your mental health as the impacts of not being outside and absorbing clean sunshine are horrible for many people. Those who have no choice but to be outside for work and such are reportedly subjecting themselves to horrific conditions and will likely suffer some ill effects as a result.