Children’s health risks due to air quality warnings from Canada wildfires: A new window on the science of the air and its air quality
Canada’s government is forecasting higher-than-normal fire activity across much of the country through August, with officials calling it on track for its worst wildfire season to date.
Pregnant people and children – especially children with asthma – are also at increased risk of harm from exposure to wildfire smoke. Kids breathe faster and take in more polluted air, says Dr. Lisa Patel, a pediatrician at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. “Kids are more susceptible to begin with because their airways are even smaller. There is a greater chance that a kid can be hit harder by a smaller amount of inflammation. This is especially true for children under age five.
There is increasing problem of wildfire smoke around the country, according to NPR’s California Newsroom. Bigger and more severe fires can take months to contain if the weather warms, and this risk is expected to rise.
Millions of Americans were under air quality warnings on Thursday due to smoke from Canadian wildfires.
The haze has disrupted air travel, sporting events and all sorts of outdoor activities due to its particulate matter.
Many people do not know they need to protect themselves from smoke, which is different to other weather events. The elderly or people with health problems may find it difficult to get the filters and solutions for the air in their home. Those who lack housing have no way to escape being exposed.
“There’s nothing you can do about the processes of the atmosphere,” says William Vizuete, a professor in the department of of environmental sciences and engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “But we need to understand those processes so we can eventually understand what we’re exposed to when we’re exposed to those [particles].”
What will the West Coast tell us about the future? An overview from AccuWeather of the Alberta Wildfires on Wednesday, June 7th, 2023
Air quality is likely to improve near the East Coast but worsen in the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes region— specifically around Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit — in the coming days as the weather pattern lingers, according to AccuWeather.
Bill Blair, Canada’s minister of public safety, said at a Wednesday briefing that there are 414 active wildfires, with 239 of those considered out of control.
Firefighters from Australia, Canada, France, New Zealand, and the US are helping out. Over 600 firefighters and support personnel have left the US for Canada.
Jason West, a professor of environmental sciences and engineering at UNC Chapel Hill, says it’s not unheard of for wildfire smoke to travel long distances: The last few years have seen cases where smoke from West Coast fires ended up on the East Coast. The widespread fires are something that’s notable this season.
He says the situation offers a window into what we might expect to see in the future, as climate change brings about more frequent and extreme weather events — from floods to fires to heat waves — in different places.
A change in weather could improve air quality in one of two ways, West explains: Rainfall could remove the harmful particles from the air, while wind could change the direction of the smoke altogether.
The smoke may simply be directed towards other areas of the U.S., as long as the fires continue, if the low pressure system shifts away from the Northeast this weekend.
In the meantime, people should take steps to protect themselves — several experts who spoke with NPR recommended making DIY box fan filters — and check online resources like PurpleAir and AirNow to monitor the air quality in their area.
“We’ve spent a lot of time trying to develop ways to measure air quality and create an air quality index that can easily communicate what that means to the public,” he says, “and I think we’re seeing some of the fruits of that.”
When it comes to pollution from wildfire smoke, Wednesday, June 7th, 2023, was by far the worst day on record for the average American. A thick haze of smoke swept in from wildfires in Canada, blanketing much of the Northeast with record levels of harmful particulate pollution.
Disturbance, shock, shock: the wake-up call for climate change after the wildfires of June 14th, 2005, the Verge reported
When Marshall Burke got the result of his team’s analysis he called The Verge, who was on the phone. “Jesus,” he says — audibly surprised, even though he expected the numbers to be bad. “It’s really remarkable. The number is pretty shocking.
An average for Americans is shown by those figures. Some people in the worst-hit areas were exposed to as much as 500 micrograms, an “insanely high level,” according to Burke. New York City and parts of upstate New York were the hardest hit yesterday.
The research team combines satellite data with readings from pollution monitors on the ground. Then, they can overlay estimates of smoke pollution for the contiguous US with population data. The western US typically has to cope with more wildfire smoke than the Northeast. But there are a lot more densely populated cities in the Northeast that were affected by the pollution this week, which is another factor that makes this event so remarkable.
“This is a completely historic event,” Burke says. historic events are becoming the norm, because of climate change. “In some sense it feels like a wake up call … It feels like maybe a taste of things to come,” he says.
How to protect yourself and your pets from wildfires: A short review of simple steps to take after the smoke from fires in New York City
Experts urge owners to keep a bag for their pet in case of an emergency, as well as first aid supplies, a leash or harness, and toys.
Pets should stay indoors and take only brief bathroom breaks when the air quality is low, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Birds shouldn’t go outside when it’s smoky.
Air quality is measured on a scale that can range from zero to 500 with a lower number indicating better air quality and anything over 300 being hazardous.
The lesson: just going inside isn’t enough. Particles in smoke can enter through doors and cracks in windows. In older homes and substandard housing, the infiltration can be even worse.
These are tiny solid and liquid droplets that hang in the air and can be harmful to human health. The source of particulate matter in the air is caused by the fires.
Here’s a breakdown of some of the more technical wildfire-related terms you might hear and what experts say are some of the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones.
There is a lot to learn about the fires in Canada that sent clouds of hazy smoke over the border and into the US this week.
When New York City’s skyline turned into a bright orange color due to smoke from the Canada fires, it was an all too recurrent sight for people living in the western United States. Over the years, fires have darkened the sky for weeks at a time when pollution is high.
When wildfires raged in California in the summer of 2020, the air was choked with smoke for weeks. Many residents monitored the air quality in real-time on the Purple Air website, a crowd-sourced network of sensors that shows pollution readings.
Still, researchers found the households that took action fared much better. Those that closed their windows, had air purifiers or ran central air conditioners had lower levels of indoor pollution.
The Covid-19 pandemic has made portable indoor air purifiers a much more common item, but when smoke fills the skies, it can be tough to find one in a store. So, plans to build more affordable DIY air purifiers have proliferated online where all someone needs is a box fan, some air filters and duct tape.
Policies can be patchwork when air quality reaches hazardous levels. While an elementary school might close for the day, nearby preschools or aftercare programs might remain open.
The decision can be difficult for administrators. Many parents can’t send their children to other places. It’s difficult for families to know when to keep their children indoors based on the official air quality index. There isn’t much to say about whether an orange or yellow air alert is enough to keep children safe.
As wildfire smoke became a larger problem in the state, state officials began to give more specific advice for schools, such as what to do about sports and recess. While the state’s version doesn’t mention air quality index numbers, many school districts have consulted local air quality officials and created guidelines.
Eric Wittmershaus, director of communication for the Sonoma County Office of Education, said that smoke response plans can be created with community input. The “snow days” of the west coast are being replaced by smoke days.
“One of the things we want school officials to do is consider if the students will be safer and healthier in the school building than they might be at home and if they have a better system at home,” Wittmershaus says. “It’s going to be a fact of life we struggle with.”
“We see individuals who live in substandard housing but are able to reduce their exposure but who are unable to do so as a result of not having resources,” says Wong-Parodi, an assistant professor in the department of earth system science.
She found that not many people are checking the air quality index on a regular basis and changing their behavior. Instead, seeing how other people react to smoke is the bigger motivator.
The lesson is to make sure the message comes from people in the local community. Providing masks, air filters and resources to groups on the ground can help ensure it reaches those who need it most.
If you do go outside, wear a mask. “Just like with COVID, the best mask is going to be a high quality, well-fitting, what we call a respirator mask, an N95 or KN95,” Marr says. Surgical masks or cloth masks are better than nothing, but they don’t offer great protection. If the mask is fitted properly, the dirty air around the sides will not leak.
There is a lot of water. The fluid keeps your eyes, nose and throat moist which helps alleviate irritation. Also, avoid exercise when the air is bad. Exercise makes you breathe more deeply, bringing any particles in the air deeper into your airways.
If you have cracks under the doors where the air is coming in, Linsey Marr, an aerosols expert at Virginia Tech, suggests rolling up a towel to block it. If you have an air purifier, “run it on high so that you are filtering your indoor air as much as possible,” Marr says.
How air pollution affects fetus development: a New York city perspective on the epidemics of asthma and vaccination rates for children with asthma
Air pollution can affect the development of the fetus. “I think that pregnant women should do all they can not to get exposed on days when the level is very high,” he says. And he points to several studies that show hospitalization rates for children with asthma flare-ups increase when air pollution levels are high.
The worst air quality in the world can be seen in New York City. Pulmonologist Dr. Ravi Kalhan, of Northwestern Medicine likened it to New Yorkers smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.