- By Nadine Yousif in Toronto & Sam Cabral in Washington
- BBC news
Millions of people in North America have been advised to wear N95 masks outdoors due to poor air quality due to the raging wildfires in Canada.
New York will start handing out free masks on Thursday. Canada has said that people should wear masks if they cannot stay indoors.
Officials warned that hazardous smoke conditions were expected to last through the weekend.
Much of the smoke is coming from Quebec, where 150 fires are burning.
More than 15,000 residents are expected to be forced to evacuate in the province, officials said Wednesday. This has been Quebec’s worst fire season on record.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Wednesday announced that New York would distribute one million masks to state residents on Thursday.
“This is a temporary situation. This is not Covid,” she told a press conference. The governor added that New York City buses and trains have high-quality air filtration systems that make them a safe form of transportation.
Environment Canada said conditions were getting worse in Toronto on Thursday, as more smoke billowed.
In a special weather report on Wednesday, the agency recommended that anyone outdoors wear a mask.
“These fine particles often pose the greatest health risk. However, respirators do not reduce exposure to gases in wildfire smoke,” the Environment Canada statement said.
Meanwhile, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has classified air quality in much of the northeast as “unhealthy”, especially for people with breathing problems.
In total, millions of people across North America are believed to be suffering from some form of air quality warning.
In New York, an orange cloud covered the city’s skyline and covered landmarks including the Statue of Liberty.
“We urge all New Yorkers to limit outdoor activity to the maximum extent possible,” Mayor Eric Adams warned Wednesday.
Zoos have brought the animals indoors, and in New York, horse-drawn carriage rides have been suspended.
On Wednesday, schools in the Washington DC area also canceled outdoor activities due to air quality being labeled “code red,” while Detroit was listed as the fifth-worst major metropolitan area in the world. world in the IQAir air pollution ranking.
Public health officials have warned people not to exercise outside and to minimize smoke exposure as much as possible, as the air poses immediate and long-term health risks.
Canadian officials say the country is bracing for its worst wildfire season on record.
Experts have pointed out that warmer and drier springs than usual are behind this trend. These conditions are predicted to continue throughout the summer.
Fires across Canada have burned more than 3.8 million hectares (9.4 million acres) of land — an area 12 times the 10-year average for this time of year.
More than 600 American firefighters have been sent to Canada to assist local officials, the White House announced Wednesday.
Also on Wednesday, US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had a phone call to discuss the current situation.
Climate change increases the risk of hot, dry weather that could potentially trigger wildfires.
The world has warmed about 1.2 degrees Celsius since the industrial era began, and temperatures will continue to rise unless governments around the world implement drastic cuts in emissions.
How does wildfire smoke affect your health?
Experts say exposure to wildfire smoke can cause many health problems.
Matthew Adams, a professor at the University of Toronto and director of the Center for Urban Environment, says the immediate effects of inhaling wildfire smoke include difficulty breathing, rapid pulse, chest pain or inflammation of the eyes and nose. and throat.
Professor Adams told the BBC: “On days when air pollution is increasing, we’re going to see an increase in hospital visits. “And people who go to the hospital often have pre-existing respiratory conditions.”
But wildfire smoke has also been linked to serious, long-term health problems such as cancer or lung disease, especially for people living in areas where wildfires are frequent, Professor Adams said.
This, he said, is caused by tiny particles in the haze, which can enter the bloodstream and other parts of the human body, causing DNA mutations and other health problems.
Some studies have also shown that prolonged exposure to wildfire smoke can affect pregnant women and their unborn babies, says Professor Adams.
For people living in cities far from the fires but following current air recommendations, Professor Adams advises people to limit outdoor exercise to avoid inhaling wildfire smoke.
“Don’t worry too much about it,” he said. “Stay inside and reduce your exposure.”
But in areas closer to the fire, Professor Adams recommends wearing an N95 mask outside to prevent inhaling most smoke particles.