Wildfires raging across the United States and Canada, on Tuesday have caused harmful air pollution as far away as New York City.
In 13 western states, more than 80 large active wildfires have charred almost 1.3 million acres of drought-parched vegetation in recent weeks, an area larger than Delaware, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho.
Several hundred additional fires have burned in western and central Canada. They included 86 classified as out of control on Tuesday in British Columbia alone, leading officials there to declare a state of emergency.
The jet stream and other cross-continental air currents have carried smoke and ash thousands of miles. People in distant cities were feeling the air contamination in their eyes, noses and lungs.
In New York City, gray haze covered Manhattan’s skyline, the air quality index (AQI) for fine particulate matter reached 170, a level considered harmful even for healthy individuals and nine times above exposure recommendations of the World Health Organization. Philadelphia hit 172.
Other northeastern cities, including Boston and Hartford, Connecticut, had readings in the unhealthy zone above 150. Residents were advised to wear face masks outdoors to limit exposure.
Smoke drifting in the United States from Canadian wildfires in Manitoba and Ontario, likely pushed the AQI in Detroit and Cleveland above 125, considered unhealthy for sensitive individuals. Wildfire smoke from Canada’s western provinces reached as far east as Ontario, prompting widespread government air quality warnings.
In parts of Idaho and Montana suffered from unhealthy levels of air pollution from 40 large blazes nearby and smoke from southern Oregon’s Bootleg fire, currently the largest in the United States.
Heavy exposure to wildfire smoke has been linked to long-term respiratory consequences for firefighters, including a sharply elevated risk of developing asthma, according to a University of Alberta study released this week.
The general population also faces severe health effects.