Federal Agency Issues Air Quality Alerts for Millions of Americans
Federal Agency Issues Air Quality Alerts for Millions of Americans

By Jack Phillips

Smoke from ongoing Canadian wildfires have prompted air quality alerts for millions of Americans across the northeastern and mid-Atlantic U.S. states.

As of Wednesday morning, at least 13 states have issued air quality alerts in some areas due to wildfires in the province of Quebec, saying that the smoke has blocked the sky.

Meanwhile, the federal National Weather Service has issued a range of air quality advisories and warnings for New York state, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Minnesota, and Rhode Island as of Wednesday morning.

Officials in the District of Columbia issued a “Code RED Air Quality Alert” due to the smoke and haze, while New York City public schools canceled outdoor activities.

“We urge everyone to reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors,” NYC Public Schools wrote on Twitter Wednesday.

The air quality in New York City worsened by Tuesday evening and will “deteriorate further” on Wednesday afternoon and evening, said New York City Mayor Eric Adams in a statement.

“At this point, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued an Air Quality Health Advisory for all five boroughs. While conditions are anticipated to temporarily improve later tonight through tomorrow morning, they are expected to deteriorate further tomorrow afternoon and evening,” Adams said.

“Currently, we are taking precautions out of an abundance of caution to protect New Yorkers’ health until we are able to get a better sense of future air quality reports,” he said.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said hazy skies, reduced visibility and the odor of burning wood are likely, and that the smoke will linger for a few days in northern states.

“It’s not unusual for us to get fire smoke in our area. It’s very typical in terms of northwest Canada,” said Darren Austin, a meteorologist and senior air quality specialist with the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. But, usually, the smoke has been aloft and hasn’t affected people’s health, he said.

Officials in Minnesota issued warnings to residents that smoke from the wildfires is blanketing much of the state on Tuesday. In an alert on Monday, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said a band of smoke could linger this week because of “very light winds.”

New York’s air quality rating was ranked as the worst air quality of any city in the world on Tuesday, according to the IQAir World Air Quality Index. The city’s air quality is generally in the “good category.”

As of Wednesday, Detroit was ranked as No. 2, while New York City was No. 3, according to the website. New Delhi, India, was No. 1, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, was No. 4. No other major U.S. cities were in the top 50.

The Quebec-area fires are big and relatively close, about 500 to 600 miles away from Rhode Island. And they followed wildfires in Nova Scotia, which resulted in a short-lived air quality alert on May 30, Austin said.

“If you have filters on your home HVAC system, you should make sure they’re up to date and high quality,” Dr. David Hill, a pulmonologist in Waterbury, Connecticut, and a member of the American Lung Association’s National Board of Directors, told The Associated Press. “Some people, particularly those with underlying lung disease, or heart disease, should consider investing in in air purifiers for their homes.”


There are blazes in nearly all of Canada’s 10 provinces and territories, with Quebec being the worst impacted due to multiple fires caused by lightning.

Wildfires are common in Canada’s western provinces, but this year flames have been mushrooming rapidly in eastern Canada, forcing home evacuations and the federal government to send in the military.

About 3.3 million hectares have already burned—some 13 times the 10-year average—and more than 120,000 people have been at least temporarily forced out of their homes.

“I want to highlight that people need to continue to listen to local authorities on how to stay safe, including in places like Ottawa that are affected by smoke from wildfires,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa.

Canada’s Foreign Minister Melanie Joly on Tuesday thanked the United States, Mexico, South Africa, and France for sending in firefighters to help.

The Canadian capital of Ottawa, which neighbors Quebec, was covered in haze on Tuesday morning, with air quality in category 10, the worst level on Environment Canada’s Air Quality Health Index, indicating “very high risk.”

“Smoke plumes from local forest fires as well as forest fires in Quebec have resulted in deteriorated air quality,” Environment Canada said in an air quality alert for Ottawa.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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