‘Unhealthy’ Haze To Linger Until Weekend

A hazy view down West Second Street in Jamestown on Wednesday. P-J photo by Eric Tichy

A National Weather Service official believes the statewide haze created by the wildfires in Canada and impacting outdoor air quality may be gone by the weekend, but not before then.

“In general we have seen a persistent northeast wind that has been bringing the smoke down from Quebec,” Meteorologist Jon Hitchcock said from the Buffalo office. “It was bad …. (Wednesday), and will most likely still be bad (Thursday) and into Friday, but should begin to be pushed out by the weekend.”

Mark Wysocki, an expert with Cornell University, echoed Hitchcock’s sentiments noting the main issue that comes with the air quality is how long people are exposed to it. “Air quality index is fairly high and will continue to be high or moderate,” he said. “It’s heaviest in Rochester and Syracuse and is spreading south to Binghamton and Elmira, so Jamestown is right on the edge.”

In the meantime, state and federal officials continued to issue advisories regarding air quality concerns that are tied to wildfires in Quebec. On Wednesday, the Department of Environmental Conservation and Department of Health issued an Air Quality Health Advisory for all state regions. The pollutant of concern is fine particulate matter.

Fine particulate matter consists of tiny solid particles or liquid droplets in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter. PM 2.5 can be made of many different types of particles and often come from processes that involve combustion (e.g. vehicle exhaust, power plants, and fires) and from chemical reactions in the atmosphere.

Exposure can cause short-term health effects such as irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and shortness of breath. Exposure to elevated levels of fine particulate matter can also worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. People with heart or breathing problems, and children and the elderly may be particularly sensitive to PM 2.5.

Another expert with Cornell University, Max Zhang, said the PM 2.5 are the most concerning particles when it comes to the air quality. The house standard for PM 2.5 is 35, and the current level is about 200. “We can’t see these particles individually, and they can get into our lungs and blood circulation,” Zhang said. “There’s not much we can do. Staying indoors is good advice, depending on what is inside. Sometimes houses are leaky, so there can still be a concern indoors. I’d say wear a mask if possible or if you have an air purifier, turn that on.”

Zhang said the concern also revolves around those with pre-existing conditions and children and the elderly, all of whom will be most at risk with the air quality concerns. The current air pollutant causes a discussion similar to the Covid era, Zhang said, so if someone chooses to wear a mask, they need to make sure it is tight.

“The current concentration level is equivalent to living in a house with a chain smoker,” Zhang said. “Or, perhaps a little bit more than that.”

The Chautauqua County Health Department recommended residents limit time outdoors over the next one or two days depending on the evolving diminished air quality levels, even for healthy individuals. The press release said there are tentative predictions that Thursday may see worsening conditions with Air Quality Levels of greater than 150 which may be considered “unhealthy” for the general population.

“Individuals with underlying respiratory illnesses, such as COPD, asthma, smokers, and additionally, small children and older individuals are especially susceptible to these changes in air quality and should try to stay inside as much as possible during this time,” Dr. Michael Faulk, M.D., Chief Medical Officer and Interim Public Health Director said in the release. “To reduce risk of exposure you can minimize the use of fans in windows and keep windows closed with air purifiers on if you have one. Warmer temperatures increase intensity so we are fortunate to have cooler temperatures this week.”

State Gov. Kathy Hochul called the air issue a crisis. “If you can stay indoors, stay indoors,” she said. “This is detrimental to people’s health. In New York State, we have over 1.4 million people who already have asthma. And when the air quality is bad, it’s a significant risk for these individuals as well as seniors, children.”


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