Central Illinois cities were recording some of the highest Air Quality Index (AQI) readings in the state Wednesday as smoke from wildfires in eastern Canada continued to form a dense haze in the area.
Visibility at Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport in Springfield was down to one mile.
Organizers of the Levitt AMP Springfield concert series postponed Thursday's concert at the North Mansion Block featuring BETTY and UNCHAiNED.
"This decision has been made in response to prevailing circumstances and out of concern for the safety and enjoyment of our valued attendees and participants," a news release read. "The current conditions have led us to prioritize the well-being of our community."
A separate email indicated BETTY's flight had been grounded "due to the air quality."
The concert has been shifted to Aug. 2 with the fireworks show being rescheduled for a later date.
The Springfield Muni canceled Wednesday's show "Rock of Ages." It was hoping to stage shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Wheel Fast Bicycle Company canceled its Wednesday ride.
At 5 p.m., the AQI in Springfield registered at 238, putting the city in the "very unhealthy" category.
The reading was from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency, which put out an Air Quality Alert Tuesday.
The bad air was expected to continue particularly for persons with sensitive conditions into Thursday.
Dr. Anna Richie, medical director of Memorial Urgent Cares, said facilities had seen eight patients ages 10 to 70 with complaints of headache, wheezing, shortness of breath, itchy eyes, hoarseness and congestion, all believed related to the poor air quality in the area.
Gail O'Neill, director of the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, encouraged people especially with breathing issues or heart or lung diseases to stay indoors as much as possible.
O'Neill also advised people to shut windows in their homes and in their cars if they were out driving.
"Some people are still infected with COVID-19, so they would be having a challenge with breathing matters," O'Neill said.
People having a hard time breathing should consult with their medical provider.
"It certainly is an environmental issue we're not used to dealing with," she added.
Breathing poor quality air, said HSHS Medical Group pulmonologist Dr. Brian Reichardt, can carry the highest risks for the very young, the elderly and those with preexisting conditions.
"Breathing air that has been polluted can cause or worsen respiratory problems, such as asthma or COPD," Reichardt said in a group chat Wednesday. "Poor air quality has also been linked to increased risks to cardiovascular diseases. Pollutants in the air can cause allergic reactions, irritate the eyes, nose and throat. Prolonged exposure to air pollution can result in reduced lung function over time and poor air quality weakens the respiratory system defense mechanisms, making individuals more susceptible respiratory infections such as influenza and pneumonia.
"The immediate effect of smoke inhalation can vary depending on an individual's underlying health, the duration and composition of the smoke exposure."
James Auten, a Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Lincoln, said the central Illinois area has dealt before with smoke from wildfires in the western part of the U.S. This was the first time he could recall dealing with smoke from Canadian wildfires.
"I've never seen it this bad," he admitted. "You can't see skylines. That's quite unusual."
The smoke has gotten down to the surface the last couple of days where it normally stays aloft, Auten said.
"If it stays in the upper atmosphere, you get like a red sunset or a red sunrise," he said. "It looks kind of cool, it stays up there and it gets pushed out as systems move along.
"When it gets mixed down, then it becomes unhealthier for people because now they're breathing it in."
Precipitation in the area could have some effect--think of rain washing out pollen, Auten said--though a friendlier ally might be shifting winds.
"The winds are light enough now and out of the wrong direction (the northeast) that the smoke is staying here," Auten said. "Thursday, the winds become more southwest. That's a good thing, so then it should push it out.
Decatur had the highest AQI reading in the area at 302, which is at the "hazardous" level.