Hazardous smoke particles from raging Canadian wildfires are lingering in Baltimore, casting a harmful haze around the city. Here’s what to know about the haze and how you can protect yourself amid bad air quality.
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Why is it hazy?
Winds carrying wildfire smoke from eastern Canada are causing hazy skies in the Baltimore area. Wildfires continue to burn across Canada, where nearly 1 million acres have burned over the past two weeks.
What’s the air quality now?
The Maryland Department of the Environment has issued a Code Red air quality alert. This means the air is unhealthy for the general population. Breathing particle pollution made up of acids, inorganic compounds, organic chemicals, soot, metals, soil, dust, biological materials or anything else that might have burned in the wildfire, such as houses and cars, is the principal public health threat from wildfire smoke.
As of Thursday, air monitors in Central Maryland registered air quality indexes well above 200 and in some cases close to 300 for particulate matter, according to the MDE. Any value above 300 is considered “hazardous” — the most dangerous category on the air quality index scale.
Who is most at risk?
Seniors, pregnant women, children, and those with respiratory and heart conditions might be more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency recommends that sensitive groups avoid strenuous activities, while others should opt for less strenuous options so they don’t breathe as hard.
The Charm City has a high rate of asthma compared with the rest of Maryland and the United States. Asthma — a disease that constricts airways in the lungs and causes wheezing, chest tightness, coughing and trouble breathing — affects 13.7% of adults in Baltimore, compared with 9% across the state and country, according to the Maryland Department of Health.
According to census data, 14.1% of Baltimore City’s population is 65 and older, compared with 17.9% in Baltimore County.
How can I stay safe?
Stay indoors as much as possible.
If headed outdoors, wear a N95 mask to offer some protection from breathing in harmful particles.
The CDC recommends finding a room that can be closed off from outside air. If you don’t have a commercial or industrial air filter, you can make an effective DIY air filtration device by using a box fan and common air filters.
What about pets?
Wildfire smoke is also harmful to furry and feathered family members. The EPA suggests watching out for coughing, runny noses and itchy eyes of pets, and warns smoke is especially harmful to pet birds. According to the American Kennel Club, breeds with short snouts such as pugs or bulldogs, as well as puppies and senior dogs, may be especially at risk if inhaling too much smoke.
When will the haze go away?
The National Weather Service forecasts that the smoke will linger around Maryland through at least Friday. The Environmental Protection Agency publishes regular air quality reports by ZIP code at AirNow.gov.
What about the O’s game or practice?
The Orioles are set to return to Baltimore to face the Royals on Friday night, when air quality is supposed to return closer to normal.
Tuesday night, the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, were supposed to play at Scranton/Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania, but the game was postponed due to the poor air quality.
Wednesday afternoon, the City of Annapolis canceled all outdoor events for the rest of the day, including swimming at the municipal pool.