New York City, NY

How to Protect Yourself from Hazardous Wildfire Smoke in New York

Sara Irshad
Photo byBen Fractenberg/THE CITY

The air quality in New York City has reached alarmingly high levels due to smoke from wildfires in Canada. As the city grapples with the worst air quality ever recorded, New Yorkers must take steps to stay safe and minimize exposure.

This guide will provide you with essential information on protecting yourself and your loved ones from the hazardous effects of wildfire smoke.

Understanding the Current Situation in NYC

The air quality index (AQI) in New York City has soared to 484, the highest level ever recorded. An AQI above 300 is considered hazardous. As smoke conditions worsened, flights at LaGuardia Airport were grounded due to low visibility. Mayor Eric Adams has declared this situation alarming, and the city has taken immediate action to ensure public safety.

Limit Outdoor Exposure and Follow Official Guidelines

To safeguard your health, it is strongly advised to limit your outdoor activities, especially if they are unnecessary. The city has canceled all outdoor events, closed public beaches, and suspended alternate-side parking. Following these guidelines and avoiding excessive exposure to polluted air is essential.

Protecting Vulnerable Groups

Certain groups of people are more vulnerable to the health risks posed by wildfire smoke, including older people, children, and individuals with respiratory or heart conditions. If you or someone you know falls into these categories, it is crucial to take extra precautions.

Stay indoors as much as possible and monitor any symptoms that may arise. Pregnant individuals, children, the elderly, and those with chronic lung or respiratory conditions, such as asthma and COPD, face higher risks. Particulate matter in the smoke can worsen these conditions and even trigger asthma attacks and heart problems.

Wearing Masks for Added Protection

While the air quality alert is in effect, wearing a tight-fitting, high-quality mask like a KN95 or N95 when outside is highly recommended. Whether working or simply walking, wearing a mask can significantly reduce your exposure to harmful pollutants. The city coordinates mask distributions at various locations, including firehouses, police precincts, and NYCHA developments.

Avoid Vigorous Outdoor Activity

Even if you are generally healthy, engaging in vigorous physical activity outdoors should be avoided during this period of poor air quality. Heavy breathing during exercise can lead to increased inhalation of particulate matter, causing inflammation, fatigue, difficulty breathing, and irritation of the eyes, nose, or throat.

Mayor Adams emphasized that there are better times for intense physical training or exertion.

Seek Medical Attention When Necessary

Individuals have varying levels of sensitivity to smoke, so it is essential to trust your instincts and seek medical attention if you feel something is wrong. Suppose you experience respiratory distress or symptoms related to your heart. In that case, it is best to consult a doctor or visit a hospital, especially if you are older or have pre-existing conditions. Prompt medical care is crucial for maintaining your well-being.

Protecting Your Pets

Smoke can also harm animals, particularly those with cardiovascular or respiratory issues. To ensure the well-being of your pets, keep them indoors as much as possible and maintain good air quality in your home. Pets have different respiratory systems and cannot wear masks, so it is advised to limit their time outside.

Contact your veterinarian immediately if your pets exhibit symptoms such as coughing, difficulty breathing, eye irritation, weakness, or other concerning signs.

Comparing Current Air Quality to Normal Conditions

In recent years, New York City's average air quality has generally remained in the "good" range (AQI 0-50). However, the current situation is far from ordinary. It is important to note that the particulate matter from wood burning, which occurs during wildfires, is less toxic than the pollution generated by burning fossil fuels.

Over the long term, daily exposure to traffic exhaust and other sources of pollution can have a more significant impact on health than short-term smoke events.

Air Quality in the Subway System

While there is no publicly available information regarding air quality within the subway system, recent data suggests that wildfire smoke may penetrate subway stations. Concerns about air quality extend both below and above ground.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) recommends heeding guidance the city and state provide regarding atmospheric conditions. N95 or KN95 masks are available to employees upon request, according to an internal bulletin from New York City Transit.

Using Air Conditioning and Ventilation

If you run your air conditioner during this period, ensure the filter is clean and functioning correctly. Running an air conditioner can be helpful, as most units circulate excellent indoor air rather than bringing in outside air.

The Environmental Protection Agency provides additional tips on using air conditioners effectively during smoky conditions. It is advisable to keep your windows closed tightly to prevent the entry of polluted air.

If you have an air purifier, running it can further improve indoor air quality. Additionally, avoid using gas stoves for cooking when ventilation is limited, which can negatively impact air quality.

Monitoring Air Quality in Your Neighborhood

Several websites provide information on the concentration of pollutants to monitor the air quality in your neighborhood. IQAir, AirNow, and the city health department's tool offer data on different neighborhoods' air quality. It is essential to check these sources regularly, as pollution levels can vary throughout the day. Certain areas may experience more significant effects than others.

Staying informed and taking necessary precautions is vital to protect yourself during this period of hazardous wildfire smoke in New York City. Limiting outdoor activities, wearing masks, and maintaining good indoor air quality is essential.

By following official guidelines and prioritizing your well-being, you can reduce the risks associated with poor air quality. Remember to seek medical attention and take care of your pets if needed. Let's work together to mitigate the effects of wildfire smoke and build a resilient future.

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