New York City’s Hazardous Air Quality: How Long Will It Last? How can I stay safe?

The cough-inducing yellow-orange haze that has suffocated New York City and created dangerous air quality conditions is caused by smoke that has been blown southward from hundreds of Canadian wildfires.

A low-pressure system pushes the smoke towards the five boroughs and holds it close to the ground, creating some of the worst weather conditions in the world. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation issued an air quality health advisory for the city through midnight Wednesday.

Typically this smoke is elevated 10,000 feet above our heads, but when this vertical mixing process occurs in the atmosphere, it mixes the air back towards the surface, meteorologist John Homenuk said.

Midtown Manhattan buildings and the Statue of Liberty are shrouded in smoke from Wednesday's Canadian wildfires.

Air quality improved a bit Wednesday morning, but the respite will be short-lived.

As of Wednesday morning, the smoke had risen higher into the atmosphere, improving air quality and visibly slightly. But starting around 2 or 3 p.m., the smoke is expected to fall closer to the ground, making air quality more dangerous.

We will see the smoke return to the surface, just like we did yesterday afternoon and evening, he said. It will be quite similar, if not perhaps slightly worse, in reality than yesterday, Homenuk said.

City Emergency Management Commissioner Zach Iscol said the air quality advisory remains in place until midnight Wednesday but that he expects it will likely be extended beyond that, potentially over the weekend.

We expect this to be a multi-day event, so we expect that notice to remain in effect for the next few days, he said.

Pedestrians walk past One World Trade Center, downtown, amid a smoky haze caused by wildfires in Canada, Wednesday, June 7, 2023, in New York.

There is a silver lining, though. By Thursday, the situation will start to improve, although air quality won’t fully return to normal until after the weekend.

There will still be smoke overhead and some near the surface, but it won’t be as bad as it has been in recent days, Homenuk said.

Young people, the elderly and people with underlying health problems should stay indoors and keep windows closed. Everyone else should also limit their outdoor exposure and take precautions.

Don’t exercise outdoors and seriously consider postponing your picnic plans. Throughout the city, outdoor concerts and other activities were being canceled.

The main thing is to limit exposure to outdoors and of course any strenuous activity. You don’t want to be out of breath and breathing in this stuff all day, if you can help it, Homenuk said.

A man talks on his phone as he looks through the haze at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, NJ on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.

With all the nasty air particles floating around, experts say you should wear a mask if you venture outside.

Just as with COVID, the stronger the mask, the better, though any face covering is better than none, said Ramn Tallaj, a physician who leads SOMOS Community Care, a nonprofit health network.

Tallaj had a suggestion for those who may only have surgical masks on hand: Flip the mask so the smoother blue side is on the inside, near your mouth.

Surgeons use it with the blue side out, because they don’t want their mouths and breath to enter patients during surgery, Tallaj said. In this case, it’s the other way around. You don’t want the [particles] to come to you.

But otherwise, N95 masks are the best.

It is the masks that will filter out these particles most effectively. So if you still have an N95 mask or want to get one, it’s advisable to wear one because they filter out harmful particles, at least to some extent, Homenuk said.

Both.

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You’ll know you’ve been affected if your eyes start to itch or watery, if you develop a cough or shortness of breath, and your throat may hurt. If you don’t have any pre-existing conditions like asthma or a heart condition, these symptoms can fade within days as long as the air quality improves.

For people with conditions like asthma, heart disease, or other respiratory conditions, smoking can be dangerous.

Barbara Mann, a pulmonologist at the Mount Sinai-National Jewish Respiratory Institute, said poor air quality leads to an increased risk of heart attacks and respiratory conditions such as asthma.

People sit in Brooklyn Bridge Park as smoke from wildfires in Canada causes foggy conditions in New York City on June 7, 2023.

Mayor Eric Adams canceled outdoor activities in New York City public schools today and is telling New Yorkers to limit outdoor activities as much as possible. The city health department says they are monitoring the situation.

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has issued an air quality health advisory for New York, Bronx, Kings, Queens and Richmond counties, as well as surrounding suburbs, extending through midnight Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Health recommends that people consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activity to reduce the risk of adverse health effects.

Adams and his administration are facing criticism after waiting until late Tuesday night to issue a notice about canceling school outdoor activities, causing some confusion among parents and teachers about how to proceed.

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