Chicago’s air quality index is the worst in the U.S. as Canada wildfire smoke lingers

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Chicago’s air quality index is the worst in the U.S. as Canada wildfire smoke lingers
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23m ago / 4:00 PM EDT

Smoke from Canada wildfires increasing health risks in Black, poorer US communities

DETROIT — Smoky air from Canada’s wildfires shrouded broad swaths of the U.S. from Minnesota to Pennsylvania and Kentucky on Wednesday, prompting warnings to stay inside and exacerbating health risks for people already suffering from industrial pollution.

The impacts are particularly hard on poor and minority communities that are more likely to live near polluting plants and have higher rates of asthma. Detroit, a mostly Black city with a poverty rate of about 30%, had the worst air quality in the U.S. on Wednesday, leading the Environmental Protection Agency to warn that “everyone should stay indoors.”

“The more breaths you’re taking, you’re inhaling, literally, a fire, camp smoke, into your lungs,” said Darren Riley, who was diagnosed with asthma in 2018, a few years after arriving in Detroit.

“Many communities face this way too often,” said Riley, who is Black. “And while this wildfire smoke allows, unfortunately, many people to feel this burden, this is a burden that far too long communities have faced day in and day out.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow.gov site showed Detroit in the “hazardous” range. Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Ohio; and Pittsburgh all have “very unhealthy” air. A wider circle of unhealthy air spread into St. Louis and Louisville, Kentucky.

In the U.S., the smoke is exacerbating air quality issues for poor and Black communities that already are more likely to live near polluting plants, and in rental housing with mold and other triggers.

Detroit’s southwest side is home to a number of sprawling refineries and manufacturing plants. It is one of the poorest parts of a mostly Black city, which has an overall poverty rate of about 30%.

40m ago / 3:43 PM EDT

N.C. health officials urge precaution against heat

There have been almost 400 emergency room visits in North Carolina for heat-related illnesses through mid-June, officials said as they continue to urge residents to take the proper precautions.

Public health officials with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services advised North Carolinians to stay wary of signs of heat-related illness including fatigue, weakness, fainting, vomiting and muscle cramps. Anyone experiencing those symptoms is told to drink water, move to a cool place and seek medical attention.

Health officials also said that the state’s heat report shows that through June 17, there have been 361 ER visits for heat-related illnesses. Cooling assistance is available for people who are eligible, the health department said.

52m ago / 3:31 PM EDT

An intensifying heat wave

A dramatic time-lapse released yesterday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed how much extreme heat has intensified over Mexico and the central and southern U.S. since the beginning of May.

The visualization depicts changes in surface air temperatures from May 1 through June 25. As June progresses, much of Texas becomes engulfed in deep-red, as dangerously high temperatures spread across the state and into neighboring regions.

The weeks of hot and humid conditions were driven by a heat dome that stagnated over Texas and Mexico. The weather service said the dome of high pressure is now expanding into the lower Mississippi Valley and parts of the Southeast.

The heat time-lapse was created using data collected by the Joint Polar Satellite System, which is operated by NOAA together with NASA.

47m ago / 3:36 PM EDT

New York’s air quality health advisory is expanded to include entire state

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul expanded the air quality health advisory today to include the entire state as she announced that her office will use, for the first time, emergency cellphone alerts to inform residents if the air quality index passes the threshold for “very unhealthy” air for more than an hour.

“With smoke from the Canadian wildfires once again impacting air quality throughout our state this week, we’re urging New Yorkers to remain vigilant,” she said in a statement. “We’re activating emergency cell phone alerts to ensure New Yorkers have the latest information and are continuing to coordinate with local counties to monitor conditions and distribute masks.”

“I encourage all New Yorkers to stay informed about the latest updates and take the necessary precautions to protect yourselves and your loved ones,” Hochul added.

Air across western and central New York, as well as the eastern Lake Ontario regions, was forecast to be “unhealthy,” her office said in a news release. The remainder of the state, including New York City and Long Island, was forecast to be “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

For those in need of N95-style masks, the governor said, hundreds of thousands have been made available. The fire department said in a tweet earlier today that masks would be available free of charge at local stations. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the Port Authority and the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will also be handing out masks at major transit hubs and state parks, Hochul said.

Additional masks are being made available from state-run stockpiles for people in counties outside the city.

48m ago / 3:35 PM EDT

Asthma patients could be at risk for ICU admission

Northwestern Medicine’s lung clinic has seen a 10% increase in patients calling with questions and concerns about the air quality in Chicago, said Dr. Michelle Prickett, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at the clinic.

Extended exposure to the smoke can worsen inflammation in the lungs, she said. “It may lead to more emergency room visits and if not improved, ICU admissions will increase in the coming days if the bad air quality continues.”

People with conditions like asthma are particularly at risk.

“People with underlying asthma may increase their inhaler use at home and if that doesn’t work after a few days, they come to the hospital and may end up intubated,” Prickett said.

3h ago / 1:51 PM EDT

Pennsylvania declares statewide ‘code red’

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said a “code red air quality action day” is in effect today, as wildfire smoke causes pollution levels to spike over much of the state.

The agency advised young children, the elderly and individuals with respiratory problems to avoid outdoor activities and recommended that everyone limit exertion while the code red remains in effect.

“Concentrations of smoke will likely be high throughout the day in western Pennsylvania and increasing throughout the day in eastern Pennsylvania,” officials said in a statement.

The agency said wildfire smoke will likely linger over the state through Friday, with conditions possibly improving Saturday.

3h ago / 1:00 PM EDT

Graphic: Canada’s wildfire season already the worst

More square miles of land have been burned in this wildfire season than in any other of the past four decades.

4h ago / 12:30 PM EDT

NYC fire department to hand out free masks

The New York City Fire Department will hand out free N95 or KN95 masks as the city continues to grapple with air quality issues.

4h ago / 12:25 PM EDT

Brutal heat wave makes Texas among the hottest places on Earth

Blistering triple-digit temperatures across Texas this week have the state rivaling the hottest locations on the planet, including the Sahara desert and parts of the Persian Gulf.

Texas has for weeks been baking under a severe, early-season heat wave that is now spreading into the lower Mississippi Valley and parts of the Southeast.

Over the past week, several cities in Texas, including San Angelo and Del Rio, have hit or surpassed 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) — temperatures that are more common at this time of year in parts of northern Africa and the Middle East.

Read the full story here.

4h ago / 12:26 PM EDT

Air quality in Detroit area is at an unhealthy level, officials say

The air quality in the Detroit area is at an unhealthy level, the state’s Health Department said today. Officials urged people to limit their time outdoors and to avoid any strenuous outdoor activity.

“We are continually monitoring the situation and are in close contact with our partners at EGLE, the City’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, as well as the City’s Environmental division,” the acting Chief Public Health Officer, Christina Floyd, said in a statement.

An air quality alert was issued for today and tomorrow in southeast Michigan by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, the health department said in a news release. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality index said the air quality rating was “purple,” indicating an unhealthy level.

“As conditions warrant, we will provide additional updates and guidance to help make sure our residents stay safe,” Floyd said.

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