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The New York Times

Unhealthy Air Envelops Much of North America; Set to Worsen in New York

By Mike Ives and Liam Stack,

2023-06-07
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People cross the Brooklyn Bridge amid a dense haze from wildfire smoke in New York, June 7, 2023. (Dave Sanders/The New York Times)

Commuters donned COVID masks to walk the streets, children were kept indoors at recess and officials warned millions of people to avoid going outside Wednesday as plumes of smoke continued to billow across the United States from Canadian wildfires, blotting out the sun in parts of upstate New York.

The air quality index of Syracuse, New York, surpassed 400, according to AirNow, which designates a reading above 100 as “unhealthy” to breathe and above 300 as “hazardous.” In Binghamton, New York, about 60 miles south, Mike Hardiman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said the city “looks like Mars” and “smells like cigars.”

New York City could be next: Hardiman said the smoke would arrive there in a matter of hours. “It’s dropping southward pretty quickly,” he said.

Hundreds of fires have been burning in eastern Canada for weeks. On Tuesday, as smoke drifted south over parts of the U.S. Northeast and Midwest, one New York City commuter described the smell as progressing from “burnt toast” to “campfire.”

The air quality in New York remained the worst it had been since the 1960s, according to the city’s health commissioner, Ashwin Vasan. The city’s schools were open but were not holding outdoor activities, Mayor Eric Adams announced. Much of New York state was under an air quality health advisory alert — indicating that the index was expected to surpass 100 — that was in effect until Wednesday night.

On Tuesday night in Manhattan, the Air Quality Index hit 218, indicating that it was likely to produce widespread effects among healthy people and serious ones for those with respiratory conditions, according to federal guidelines. Such a reading is typical in a smoggy megacity like Jakarta, Indonesia, or New Delhi but rare in New York, where decades of state and federal laws have helped to reduce emissions.

Satellite imagery showed haze engulfing parts of the United States on Wednesday, and warnings were in effect across a wide portion of the Northeast and Midwest. Philadelphia was under a “code red,” meaning sensitive groups could be at risk. Forecasters in Buffalo, New York, said the smoke there could be more severe than the day before, with that plume expected to reach New York City in the afternoon and evening.

The haze was expected to linger for a couple of days because the weather system pushing it around the atmosphere was relatively stagnant, the National Weather Service said in a forecast. Forecast models showed that a more dense smoke layer could reach farther west into cities including Pittsburgh on Thursday.

Canada, where nearly 250 fires were burning out of control as of early Wednesday, was also in for more haze. Parts of Quebec and Ontario were under a smog warning, and experts warned that the air in Toronto and elsewhere was likely to worsen — probably on Thursday — before getting better.

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The Williamsburg Bridge is shrouded in a dense haze from wildfire smoke in New York, June 7, 2023. (Juan Arredondo/The New York Times)

This article originally appeared in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/live/2023/06/07/us/canada-wildfires-air-quality-smoke/heres-the-latest-on-the-worsening-air-quality-in-the-us">The New York Times</a>.

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A pedestrian wears a mask amid heavy haze from wildfire smoke in the Bronx, June 7, 2023. (Gregg Vigliotti/The New York Times)
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