The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) has extended its Air Quality Health Advisory through midnight on Thursday, June 29. The advisory, initially issued for Wednesday, June 28, warns that the air quality is expected to remain at least ‘Unhealthy for sensitive groups’, although the levels are not anticipated to reach the ‘Hazardous’ category as they did earlier in June.

Those most vulnerable to the poor air quality include individuals suffering from cardiovascular conditions such as COPD or heart disease, respiratory illnesses like asthma or certain forms of long COVID, as well as the very young and elderly. The NYSDEC is advising these groups to take precautionary measures to limit their exposure to the poor air quality.

To reduce the risk, recommendations include limiting time spent outdoors, avoiding strenuous outdoor activities, and, if necessary, using an N95 or KN95 mask. The latest air quality readings can be accessed on the AirNow website, a resource operated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

According to Alistair Hayden, Assistant Professor in the Department of Public and Ecosystem Health at Cornell University, the region is likely to witness even worse conditions with an expected AQI of 160 on Thursday. The haze, not a typical phenomenon in New York, is a consequence of a new set of wildfires and prevailing weather patterns.

Hayden warns that exposure to these conditions can cause health issues such as shortness of breath, headaches, and asthma attacks, even in individuals without pre-existing health conditions. To protect themselves, people are advised to stay indoors, avoid strenuous outdoor activities, and wear N95 masks if venturing outside is unavoidable. Hayden also suggests the use of high-efficiency air filters or small portable air cleaners to further improve indoor air quality. Following a smoke wave in early June, local hospitals reported a significant increase in patients with heart and lung conditions.

Canada has already set an annual record with 20 million acres decimated by nearly 3,000 fires this year, and the fire forecasts anticipate more throughout the summer. Hayden points to climate change as a driver for the increasing number and size of fires and highlights the exacerbating effect of decades-long policies suppressing all wildfires. This suppression has led to fuel buildup in forests and natural lands, rendering ecosystems more vulnerable to large-scale fires.

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