10th June 2023 – (New York) Residents of the northeastern United States breathed a sigh of relief on Friday, as smoke from Canadian fires gradually cleared after blanketing several cities in a noxious haze this week. Air quality in New York and Washington was classified as “moderate” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Though the sky was blue again in the American capital on Friday morning, children at city public schools were still prohibited from spending recess outdoors as a precaution. In New York, public schools were closed and operated remotely.
Air quality improved after winds blowing over the Canadian province of Quebec, where the fires are raging, changed direction, according to Ryan Stauffer, a NASA scientist specialising in air pollution. The concentration of fine particles in the air was up to twenty times lower on Friday morning in Washington compared to the same time on Thursday.
Thick skies and an acrid smell had hung over the region for days, with air pollution exceeding levels found in some of the most contaminated cities in the world in South Asia and China. Flights were delayed at many airports due to reduced visibility, and masks reappeared on the streets.
On Friday, about 140 fires were still active in Quebec, including nearly 80 that were deemed to be out of control. More than 13,000 people have been evacuated since the beginning of June. Hundreds of foreign firefighters were in Canada to assist with the gigantic fires, many of which are located in remote boreal forest areas.
With nearly 900,000 hectares affected, according to official figures, Quebec is experiencing an unprecedented fire season. “Air quality conditions have improved in NYC, but may still be unhealthy for some people,” said the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “Air quality is expected to improve over the weekend, but may vary.”
The smog shocked the United Nations chief, environmental organizations, and US politicians this week, who stressed the need to combat climate change, which increases the risk of fires. The mayors of New York, Montreal, Toronto, Washington, and Philadelphia issued a joint statement on Friday, saying “this alarming episode serves as a stark reminder of the harmful impacts that the climate crisis is having on cities around the world.”
They emphasised the need to drastically reduce fossil fuel use to at least halve emissions by 2030 to avoid a future filled with weeks like these. More than 111 million people in the United States had been under air quality alerts on Thursday due to the fires. The wildfire smoke from Canada was also detected thousands of miles away in Norway.