29 February 2024

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Air quality worries arise in New York due to Canada’s wildfire smoke

Hundreds of uncontrolled forest fires occurred across Canada, causing New York City’s air quality to degrade. Wildfires are typical in Canada’s western provinces, but this year’s outbreak in the country’s east has been the worst-ever start to the season. 

According to Bill Blair, Federal Minister of Emergency Preparedness, around 3.8 million hectares (9.4 million acres) have already burned.

US President Joe Biden called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to express his support for the “devasting and historic” flames raging in his nation. “The President has asked his staff to deploy all available Federal firefighter assets that can quickly assist in controlling fires impacting Canadian and American communities,” the White House said in a statement.

At times, the air quality index, a US Environmental Protection Agency indicator for air pollution, surpassed 400 in Syracuse, New York City, and Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. A level of 50 or below is regarded as good; anything higher than 300 is deemed “hazardous,” and even healthy persons are advised to limit their outdoor physical activity.

Canada awaits wildfire help

The Canadian province of Quebec, which has been heavily hit by the country’s wildfires, is anxiously awaiting the arrival of reinforcements from outside to help battle back blazes that are surpassing its firefighting capability. Hundreds of firemen have been deployed in Quebec, with assistance from France and the United States likely in the following days.

The forest fires in British Columbia and Alberta began in late April, displacing over 30,000 people at its peak and slowing down oil and gas production. While most fires in the western provinces have been extinguished, new fronts have started in the eastern provinces of Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Ontario.

Following huge flare-ups in western Canada last month, firefighting efforts recently relocated to Nova Scotia on the Atlantic coast, before moving this week to Quebec, which has become the crisis’s epicentre.

Buildings shrouded in smoke from Canada wildfires in New York, US, on Tuesday. June 6, 2023. New York City is bathed in a blanket of unhealthy air as smoke from Canadian wildfires seeps across much of the eastern US and Great Lakes areas. Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Firefighters in the province are battling 140 fires, most of which are considered out of control, and authorities are hoping that additional staff and rainfall will give some relief. However, Quebec Premier Francois Legault stated that no significant rain is expected before Monday evening, raising concerns about a lack of resources. 

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What is causing wildfires?

This winter saw little snowfall in Atlantic Canada, followed by an unusually dry spring. According to Weather Network meteorologist Michael Carter, the capital of Nova Scotia, Halifax, had only 120 mm of rain between March and May, which is around one-third of the usual.

According to Eric James, a modelling expert at the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “the month of May was just off the charts — record warm in much of Canada.” According to Joel Thornton, professor, and chair of the department of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, a warming globe would cause hotter and longer heat waves, resulting in larger, smokier fires. 

High pollution levels in New York

On Wednesday morning, New York City recorded the highest levels of air pollution among major cities worldwide, leading even New Delhi, according to IQAir. India was recently ranked ninth in a worldwide air quality survey, with Chad, Iraq, Pakistan, Bahrain, and Bangladesh being the five most polluted countries in 2022.

Weather forecast for the rest of the week

Weather predictors predict hazy weather in New York for the remainder of the week. AccuWeather forecasters predict that “very unhealthy” levels will persist for the rest of the week. Many New York City weather stations reported visibility of less than a mile.

AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter recommends wearing a high-quality N95 or KN95 mask if someone needs to spend time outside. “Sleeping with the windows closed and using an air conditioner or fan can be helpful,” he says, adding that utilising a HEPA filter can help minimise the number of these microscopic particles in the air. 

Major Eric Adams of New York City has recommended all citizens to limit outdoor activities this week. New York City public schools, according to Adams, would remain open but “will not offer any outdoor activities on Wednesday.” Because of the bad air quality, New Jersey officials recommended residents to spend less time outside. The state recommended that anyone who must work outside use a N95 mask, and numerous schools in New Jersey suspended playtime and other outside activities due to poor air quality across the state.