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Air quality concerns in US will continue through summer due to Canada’s wildfires

Al Bello/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) — The U.S. is nowhere near out of the woods from the dangers of smoke billowing from hundreds of wildfires burning throughout Canada.


A grayish haze continued to linger over much of the Northeast on Monday, nearly a week after the air quality emergency in the region began to confine millions of people indoors.

Philadelphia’s Air Quality Index measured at 101 on Monday morning, or “Code Orange,” which is unhealthy for sensitive groups such as young children, the elderly, pregnant women and those with pre-existing lung and heart conditions, according to AirNow.gov.

New York City teetered toward Code Orange as well, with an AQI of 100 on Monday morning. Other major cities that remained in “Code Yellow,” or “moderate” air quality, included Boston, at 94; Buffalo, New York, at 76; Baltimore at 71 and Washington, D.C. at 65.

Canada suffered an “unprecedented” start of the wildfire season, which will continue to remain severe throughout the summer due to warm and dry conditions, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said last week as more than 400 wildfires burned throughout the country. A fire season outlook issued by the Canadian government last week said “the potential for continued higher-than-normal fire activity across most of the country throughout the 2023” is due to ongoing drought and forecasts for warm temperatures.

There are currently 450 active wildfires burning in Canada, with more than 4.8 million acres burned, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. More than 220 of the active fires have been deemed out of control, fire officials said.

New York Sen. Chuck Schumer called on Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on Sunday to double the number of firefighters being sent to Canada in order to prevent a “summer of smoke” in the Northeast.

For weeks, the smoke from wildfires in different regions in Canada has been making its way South. In May, air quality alerts were issued in Montana, Idaho, Colorado and Arizona due to wildfires burning in Alberta. By May 31, smoke from wildfires burning on the other side of the country, in Nova Scotia, led to the first stretch of air quality alerts in the Northeast.

By last week, major cities in the Northeast were breaking records for deteriorating air quality due to wildfires burning in Quebec– with New York City reaching 484, nearly reaching highest end of “hazardous” AQI ratings at 500. The AQI in places like India and China are around 150 on any given day, according to IQAir, a website that publishes air quality data around the world.

As the wildfires continue in Canada and eventually start on the West Coast of the U.S., the smoke being emitted from the heavy flames will continue to compromise air quality as it moves east, experts said.

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