MICHIGAN—Drifting smoke from the ongoing wildfires across Canada is creating curtains of haze and raising air quality concerns throughout the Great Lakes region, and in parts of the central and eastern United States.
Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy on Tuesday issued an air quality alert for the entire state, while in Chicago — where the air quality has been categorized “unhealthy” by the US Environmental Protection Agency — officials are urging young people, older adults and residents with health issues to spend more time indoors.
Earlier this month, massive fires burning stretches of Canadian forests blanketed the northeastern United States and the Great Lakes region, turning the air yellowish gray, and prompting warnings for people to stay inside and keep windows closed.
The small particles in wildfire smoke can irritate the eyes, nose and throat, and can affect the heart and lungs, making it harder to breathe. Health officials say it’s important to limit outdoor activities as much as possible to avoid breathing in these particles.
Fires in northern Quebec and low pressure over the eastern Great Lakes are sending smoke through northern Michigan, and across southern Wisconsin and Chicago, said Bryan Jackson, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
Jackson added that a north wind would push the smoke further south, moving into Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky later Tuesday and overnight.
Southwestern Michigan has a high air quality index, over 200 on a 500-point index, he noted. That’s considered unhealthy for everyone because it denotes high levels of fine particle pollution, or PM2.5 particles.
“Until the fires are out, there’s a risk,” Jackson said. “If there’s any north component to the wind, there’s a chance it’ll be smoky.”
In early June, US President Joe Biden said in a statement that hundreds of American firefighters and support personnel have been in Canada since May, and called attention to the fires as a reminder of the impacts of climate change.
The warming planet will produce hotter and longer heat waves, making for bigger, smokier fires, according to Joel Thornton, professor and chair of the department of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington.
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