Smoke due to wildfires in Canada cast a haze over Baltimore and other parts of Maryland on June 6, 2023. Photo by Emily Westmark.

As of Wednesday, a majority of Maryland is under an air quality advisory due to smoke wafting in from raging wildfires in Eastern Canada, and state environment officials are warning that Marylanders should limit their exposure outside.

“Fires over Quebec continue to produce prodigious smoke which is being continuously funneled on northerly flow towards the Mid-Atlantic. Presently a concentrated plume of smoke is working south through Pennsylvania and New York towards the eastern half of Maryland,” according to the state’s Department of the Environment’s most recent air quality forecast discussion.

The smoky air began rolling in Tuesday evening, bringing in fine particles that are lung irritants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

High concentrations fine particles brought in through wildfire smoke can lead to a variety of symptoms, ranging from “relatively minor (e.g., eye and respiratory tract irritation) to more serious health effects (e.g., exacerbation of asthma and heart failure, and premature death),” according to the EPA.

Additional health effects attributed to short-term wildfire smoke exposure includes coughing, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.

While more Northern cities are experiencing the brunt of the smoke and suffering from reduced air quality due to the wildfires in Canada, Maryland is catching a fair amount of smoky air.

Air quality is indicated through the air quality index (AQI), a metric that ranges from 0 to 500 AQI, with lower numbers meaning better air quality, according to AirNow, a partnership between federal environmental and health agencies. “Good” air quality index ranges from 0 to 50.

Maryland Department of the Environment reports that most of Maryland is experiencing “unhealthy” air quality due to wildfires in Canada. Credit: Maryland Department of the Environment

In Maryland, Garrett and Allegany counties are under a “moderate” air quality advisory, at 89 AQI, the Maryland Department of the Environment reports. In this area, people who are uniquely sensitive to air quality are recommended to reduce outdoor excursion.

At 112 AQI, Washington County’s air quality is considered “unhealthy” for sensitive groups, which includes children, older adults and people with respiratory disease or heart disease. These groups are recommended to take precautions and limit prolonged outdoor exertion, according to AirNow

All of Maryland’s remaining counties and Baltimore City are under a Code Red at 151 AQI, meaning that all residents should limit prolonged outdoor exertion and sensitive groups should avoid outdoor activities, according to AirNow.

The governor’s office released a list of tips to keep healthy during poor air quality:

• If you have lung or heart disease, stay indoors.
• Air conditioning can improve the air quality indoors.
• Masks (like N95s, KN95s) will reduce the particles that you breathe, but they can also make it harder to breathe.
• Be alert for breathing problems in children, especially children with lung problems like asthma.
• Check on neighbors and relatives with chronic health problems.

“The health and safety of Marylanders is our top priority. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates as more information is available,” Gov. Wes Moore (D) said in a statement.

Current projections from the state environmental department indicate that some reprieve from smoky air is likely to arrive between Thursday and Friday, when a majority of the state is expected to move from an “unhealthy” air advisory to “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

This story was updated at 6 p.m.

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