Air quality alerts were issued from Montana to Vermont as the smoke continued to filter into more parts of the U.S.
Monday will bring some slight relief for residents in the Midwest as upper-level winds will continue to drift the smoke east, but the smoke will continue to track into the Northeast.
The FOX Forecast Center noted that there are no indications that plumes of smoke will let up anytime soon. The source of the smoke, Canadian wildfires, continue to burn out of control. This will be especially prevalent when storm systems move through, as northerly winds will help to transport the smoke south.
While the city is nowhere close to the levels of three weeks ago, when Chicago registered the world air quality in the world, there are currently enough pollutants in the air for healthy people to feel the effects.
“The 153 that it’s at now, that’s enough to make people start to feel it, and if you’re out there for long periods of time, that might start to irritate your throat, your nose, your eyes,” said Steve Mosakowski, Director of Respiratory Care at Rush University Medical Center.
While most people will only feel irritation from the hazy air quality, respiratory experts do warn that young children, the elderly and those with underlying illnesses, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma, need to take extra care.
There were nearly 900 active wildfires in Canada on Saturday, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. The fires are burning from coast to coast, according to a map updated daily by the center. To date, Canadian wildfires have burned around 10 million hectares this year, an area roughly the size of the state of Indiana
The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource advised people to close all windows and doors during heavy smoke, especially overnight. Officials also recommended people limit prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Indianapolis Office of Sustainability also advised people in impacted areas to limit exposure when possible.
This is not the first time the region has dealt with smoke from the wildfires. In late June, Chicago experienced some of the worst air quality in the world amid heavy smoke.
Particulates from the smoke can irritate your eyes, nose and throat, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Older adults, babies, young children and people with heart or lung diseases, including asthma, are at a higher risk.
Two firefighters have died in Canada battling the wildfires in recent days. One died on Saturday, local media reported. Another firefighter died Thursday responding to one of the blazes near Revelstoke, British Columbia, a press release from the firefighter’s union said. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau memorialized that firefighter in a post on Twitter.
“The news from British Columbia – that one of the firefighters bravely battling wildfires has lost her life – is heartbreaking,” he tweeted. “At this incredibly difficult time, I’m sending my deepest condolences to her family, her friends, and her fellow firefighters.”
“I’m incredibly saddened by the news from the Northwest Territories, that another firefighter has lost their life battling wildfires,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted Sunday. “To their family, their friends, and those they were heroically serving alongside: Canadians are keeping you in our thoughts. We’re here for you.”
Wildfire smoke contains tiny pollutants known as particle matter, or PM 2.5, that can get into the lungs and bloodstream once inhaled. These pollutants most commonly cause difficulty breathing and eye and throat irritation, but have also been linked to more serious long-term health issues like lung cancer, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Parts of the US will be at risk of smoke for the foreseeable future depending on weather patterns and fire flareups because Canada is experiencing its worst fire season on record. More than 24 million acres have burned so far this year, an area that is roughly the size of Indiana.
Smoke from blazes in Alberta and British Columbia moved south across Minnesota following a cold front Friday, according to the state’s pollution control agency, prompting an air quality alert that was extended until Sunday afternoon.
As of Saturday, nearly 900 fires have burned in a record-breaking year for the Great White North, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre.
How does air pollution affect human health? Who is at risk?
Fine-particle pollution can affect every organ of the body, Anenberg said.
Studies show particle pollution has been linked to various health problems, according to the EPA, including:
- Premature death in people with heart or lung disease
- Nonfatal heart attacks
- Irregular heartbeat
- Aggravated asthma
- Decreased lung function
- Increased respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or difficulty breathing
Air pollution can be particularly harmful for sensitive populations, Anenberg said, such as people who have pre-existing medical conditions, older people, young children or people who are pregnant.
“People with chronic lung disorders are most at risk for exposure to smoke. It is important to continue taking medications to keep disorders under control,” said Dr. Jorge Mercado, associate chief of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at New York University Langone Hospital in Brooklyn.
“As if the rain coming out of the sky isn’t enough, if you start looking up tomorrow you’re going to see a similar situation to what we had a couple of weeks ago because of the air quality degradation resulting from the wildfires in Canada,” she said. “We’re likely to be issuing a air quality alert for portions of our state. It seems to be projected to be mostly around western New York and the North Country at this time. But as we saw, it can shift very quickly and start developing in more populated areas.”
Health officials have recommended people can stay safe by taking steps such as wearing a mask, staying indoors and keeping indoor air clean.
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