U.S. Air Quality: Wildfire Smoke Lingers in Midwest and Northeast - The World News

U.S. Air Quality: Wildfire Smoke Lingers in Midwest and Northeast

Air quality remained poor in the Northeast on Friday, but conditions were improving across much of the Midwest as rain and winds from the west and south began to disperse wildfire smoke from Canada that had hung over much of the country this week.

Rain and southerly winds were expected to continue across most of the Eastern United States at least through the Fourth of July, clearing the way for fireworks, cookouts and other outdoor activities over the holiday weekend, said David Roth, a forecaster with the federal Weather Prediction Center.

One exception to the general clearing trend may be in Minnesota, where a lack of rainfall means “the smoke will be more persistent there,” Mr. Roth said.

At various times this week, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Columbus, Ohio, all experienced air quality that qualified as “very unhealthy” or “hazardous” according to AirNow.gov, a source for air-quality data run by the Environmental Protection Agency. By Friday afternoon, the skies in all three cities were beginning to clear, with only moderate pollution, according to AirNow.

Conditions were expected to continue to improve across much of the Midwest from Friday night into Saturday as storms roll in, Mr. Roth said.

“That rain will wash everything out of the air,” he said.

In the Northeast on Friday, unhealthy levels of ozone and small particulates in the air were reported from Wilmington, Del., to Albany, N.Y., according to AirNow. The air was likely to clear as wind from the south pushed any lingering wildfire smoke back to Canada, Mr. Roth said.

The resulting weather pattern should keep skies clear of smoke across most of the Northeast into early Wednesday, he added. He cautioned, however, that the location and size of new wildfires could not be accurately predicted, meaning smoke forecasts were good for 24 hours at most.

The gradually improving conditions came after a week during which millions of people in the Great Lakes region, parts of the Midwest, the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic were forced to cope with smoke that obscured skylines and made it difficult for some to breathe.

Lino Alayo, 42, a landscaper on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, began his Friday morning by checking the air quality level on his phone, followed by three pumps of his asthma inhaler. Well aware of the potential health risks, he said he was forcing himself to work more slowly these days. “I just have got to learn how to adapt if this is going to be the new normal,” Mr. Alayo said. “It raises a lot of fears.”

John Valentin, 53, a building superintendent who lives and works on the Upper West Side, said he had been gargling with Listerine to soothe the irritation in his throat. He spent Friday cleaning a thin layer of soot from his building’s windowsills, he said, and sealing shut stairwell windows after older tenants complained about the air quality.

Other New Yorkers were less concerned about the conditions. Consuela Agudelo, 77, was waiting for a bus in Queens on Friday morning and, like most people on the street, was not wearing a mask, although she had some in her purse.

“I’m not putting it on because I don’t feel anything,” Ms. Agudelo said. “Also, it’s so hot with a mask on. When I left my house, I could smell the smoke.

“But it’s not as bad as the first time,” she added, referring to the days earlier this month when wildfire smoke turned the air in New York orange.

In Michigan, the state environmental department extended a statewide air quality advisory into Saturday. In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that the statewide advisory would end Friday, but that regional advisories would remain in place Saturday for the Adirondacks, the Hudson Valley, New York City and Long Island, with air quality remaining dangerous enough to affect sensitive groups. In Minnesota, Maryland and Washington, D.C., health and environmental agencies warned that people with impaired health should continue to take precautions, even as air conditions improved slowly.

On Friday morning, Mayor Eric Adams of New York City said in an interview with the radio station 1010 WINS that officials had not decided whether Fourth of July fireworks would continue as planned. As conditions improved during the day, so did the fireworks forecast. By late afternoon, Kayla Mamelak, a spokeswoman for Mr. Adams, said, “I don’t know of any discussion to cancel.”

In East Baltimore, Md., on Friday afternoon, Carey Lawston carried two plastic bags full of groceries uphill. He needed a breather with a quarter mile left in his walk home, so he sat on a bench at a bus stop.

As he paused, Mr. Lawston, 38, peered out at the traffic whizzing by and the smoke partly obscuring the Baltimore skyline to the west. The smoke had not made his trip harder, he said, but it was a constant visual reminder of the poor air quality.

“It seemed like it was getting lighter,” Mr. Lawston said. “Yesterday it was heavy. I was second-guessing walking outside.”

He added that he was worried that the lingering haze could make his run to the store moot by scuttling plans for a relaxed weekend outside enjoying the smell of smoke — from his grill.

Hundreds of miles to the west, a cloud of polluted air hung over the northwestern part of North Dakota on Friday. Ryan Mills, who manages the air monitoring program for the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality, said a low-pressure weather system was pulling wildfire smoke from Canada almost directly south, where it hovered low to the ground in high-elevation areas.

On Friday morning, Mr. Mills was in his office in Bismarck, the state’s capital, when he received a call from his in-laws in Garrison, 75 miles to the northwest. They had an urgent question: Were the skies ever going to clear up?

“It’s getting better as we speak,” he told them.

By Friday afternoon, there were more than 500 wildfires burning across Canada, with nearly half of them burning out of control, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. Canada’s wildfire season started several weeks early this year, which means the fires could impact air quality across North America for weeks.

Sarah Maslin Nir, Adam Bednar and Jon Hurdle contributed reporting.

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