Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski /
Workers from Charles J. Merlo, Inc., Mineral Point, work on the Fifth Avenue Bridge replacement project on Friday afternoon.

Since smoke from Canadian wildfires have blanketed the area, causing air quality to reach unhealthy pollution levels, Claysburg resident Alexandra Bertram says her youngest son’s asthma has gotten worse.

“I have to give him his inhaler more frequently,” Bertram said. “He used to need it one to two times a week; now he needs it at least once a day.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection declared a Code Red Air Quality Action Day on Friday due to the smoke for the entire state, with relief possible on Saturday, according to a press release.

“On a Code Red Air Quality Action Day, young children, the elderly, and those with respiratory problems, such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis, are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution and should avoid outdoor activities, and everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion,” the release read.

Bertram brought her three children to the Legion Park in Hollidaysburg for a couple of hours Friday to blow off steam. She said her youngest has been coughing and sneezing a lot more but that it’s hard keeping him inside all the time.

What worried her most about the smoke, in addition to her son’s asthma, was the way it smelled.

“It’s that chemical smell,” Bertram said. “It’s not constant; it comes and goes. It’ll eventually make people sick. We’ll be breathing it in all summer.”

Despite the Code Red, people could still be seen walking, running and working at Mansion Park in Altoona. Jason Little and his daughter, Alli, were busy practicing kicking goals for her upcoming junior season of high school soccer.

“We’re not doing things that we usually do, like sprinting,” Little said.

The pair had skipped practicing on Thursday, Alli said, even though they’re usually at the park every day.

“I’ve played soccer my whole life, every day since I was 4,” Alli said.

When asked how they’d manage their practice if the smoke persisted for the rest of the summer, Little said they would still be out at the park.

“We’ll be cautious, look at the air quality and be smart about it,” Little said.

Walking laps on the track at the park was Larry Repko, who said he was typically there once or twice a day and that the smoke hasn’t deterred him from his routine.

“The mornings are worse,” Repko said. “I haven’t really noticed it today (Friday). Yesterday my eyes burned.”

Out early Friday afternoon, Repko said he couldn’t believe the difference between that morning and later in the day. Sometimes, he mistakes the smoke for morning fog.

“It’s always a concern; I hope they can get them out,” Repko said of the fires. “I hope there’s some way we can help them. I can’t imagine what it’s like farther north.”

Beverly Kelley of Hollidaysburg said she, her husband and two grandchildren, who are visiting from King of Prussia, have definitely noticed the smoke. She said that her husband has asthma so they’ve been staying inside and playing games.

“The air quality was better this afternoon so we decided to come out to the park,” Kelley said Friday.

She said she noticed how bad the smoke was in places like Pittsburgh and New York City.

“I can’t believe they played baseball last night,” Kelley said.

What concerned Kelley’s granddaughter, Peyton, 10, was the effect the smoke would have on people with lung issues and asthma. Her brother, Wyatt, 8, described the smoke as smelling like “chemicals and burning ashes.”

Not everyone has been bothered by the poor air quality. Scott Scanner, a superintendent for Merlo Inc. working on a bridge on Fifth Avenue, said he hasn’t taken any notice.

“None of the other guys have been complaining either,” Scanner said. “It’s been cloudy and stuff. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Ben Certeza, a journeyman with Glassmender Mirror and Plate working on replacing the windows at Penn Lincoln Elementary School, echoed those sentiments.

“I haven’t noticed anything besides the haze,” Certeza said. “I’m not worried about it. We’ll be here all summer.”

Mirror Staff Writer Rachel Foor is at 814-946-7458.

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