High levels of smoke in the United States from unusually early and intense wildfires in Canada threaten the health of more than 100 million Americans. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced this on Thursday. The US Federal Environmental Agency has labeled much of the air quality in the densely populated US Northeast as ‘unhealthy’.
The EPA advises people with health problems to stay indoors and wear masks when they go outside, but unaffected residents are also being warned about poor air quality. In many cities, schools have kept their students indoors and zoos have moved all animals indoors.
In New York, the blanket of orange smoke is so thick that the tops of some skyscrapers have become invisible. The city handed out more than a million free mouth-and-nose masks on Thursday after the local environmental service issued a health warning on Wednesday. “If you’re a New Yorker with heart or respiratory problems, be careful when you go out today,” said Mayor Eric Adams. “Try to limit your outdoor activities to the bare essentials.”
NOAA, the US counterpart of the KNMI, estimates that the smoke will reach the Midwest and southern states like Georgia and Tennessee in the coming days. The weather service in the southern city of Memphis tweeted, “You may have noticed the sky is a little hazy here”.
In Canada itself, fires have been a major concern for some time, including in the metropolis of Toronto, where suffocating air pollution plagues residents. Tens of thousands of people have been evacuated from the country’s west to the east coast in recent weeks.
Across Canada, more than 3 million hectares of forest burned in May, the most in an entire season in the worst fire years of the past decade. Canadian officials are predicting an above-average fire season for August.
Firefighters are assisted by the Canadian military and fire crews from other countries. On Wednesday, the United States announced it would send more than 600 firefighters to Canada to help fight the blaze. Mexico, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa are also sending hundreds of rescue workers.
The European Union is also going to help Canada with firefighting efforts. France, Portugal and Spain have contributed more than 280 firefighters. European Commission President Ursula van der Leyen tweeted that more help was on the way.
Read more Quebec is used to fires, but now they are much larger
A version of this article appeared in the June 9, 2023 issue of the newspaper.
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