New York City was found to have the worst air quality of any major metropolitan area on Tuesday as a result of harmful smoke wafting from over a hundred wildfires burning in Quebec.

The smoke from Canada’s wildfires has periodically engulfed the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic for over a week, causing persistent poor air quality.

New York City’s air quality index was above 200 at one point on Tuesday night, which is considered “very unhealthy”.

Later on Tuesday night, New York City briefly topped the list of the world’s worst air pollution, coming second only to New Delhi, India.

Vulnerable Populations at Risk

People who are particularly vulnerable to wildfire smoke are children, senior citizens, people who are pregnant, or people with respiratory or cardiovascular diseases.

“If you can see or smell smoke, know that you’re being exposed,” said William Barrett, the national senior director of clean air advocacy with the American Lung Association.

“And it’s important that you do everything you can to remain indoors during those high, high pollution episodes, and it’s really important to keep an eye on your health or any development of symptoms.”

Wildfire Smoke and Its Risks to Human Health

Wildfire smoke contains very tiny particulate matter (PM2.5) which is the tiniest pollutant yet also the most dangerous.

When inhaled, it can travel deep into lung tissue and enter the bloodstream.

It comes from sources like the combustion of fossil fuels, dust storms, wildfires, and has been linked to several health problems, including asthma, heart disease, and other respiratory illnesses.

In 2016, around 4.2 million premature deaths were associated with fine particulate matter.

The Importance of Taking Action

It is essential to raise awareness of the risks of air pollution and take action to reduce emissions.

Human-caused climate change has exacerbated the hot and dry conditions that allow wildfires to ignite and grow.

Scientists recently reported that millions of acres scorched by wildfires in the Western US and Canada, an area roughly the size of South Carolina, could be traced back to carbon pollution from the world’s largest fossil fuel and cement companies. When they burn, the smoke can travel thousands of miles downstream, putting millions more people in harm’s way.


Main photo: Amr Alfiky/Reuters