BATAVIA — The grungy smell was impossible to miss Tuesday in much of the GLOW region.
Similar to burning leaves or maybe a burnt house. Look down the street and the view might be marred by a slight, smoky haze.
The Canadian wildfires and the impact they had on air quality in the Rochester area this week could have affected anyone. However, a Rochester Regional Health doctor said Tuesday, the air quality especially affected people with chronic lung conditions.
Chief of RRH Allergy, Immunology and Rheumatology Dr. S. Shahzad Mustafa said the air quality on Tuesday in Rochester and much of the Northeast and the Midwest is being affected by the Canadian wildfires in Quebec.
“What that means is the air quality index is a measure of the pollutants in the air, not so much allergens,” he said. “That air quality can therefore affect your respiratory status, particularly individuals who have chronic respiratory conditions — asthma, emphysema, things like that.”
The air quality is lower than typical, especially for our area, for not a huge metropolitan area and it could have an impact on individual’s respiratory status, especially individuals with chronic lung conditions, he said.
“It can affect anyone, but the folks who are going to be most prone to having respiratory symptoms are anyone with an underlying health condition ...” Mustafa said. “We want to keep things in perspective. Although the air quality is suboptimal and not what we’re used to around here, the impact it has, the degree of impairment it has, should be modest for most individuals, but you want to be aware of it.”
Regarding schools that canceled outdoor sports and activities Tuesday, Mustafa said he doesn’t claim to be an air quality expert, but with Tuesday being an atypical day, doing that is a reasonable approach.
“It’s short-term. It shouldn’t be long-lasting,” he said.
According to an update Tuesday afternoon by Gov. Kathy Hochul’s office, more than 100 wildfires currently burning in Quebec were causing hazy conditions across much of the state.
The Batavia City School District canceled all of its outdoor activities Tuesday based on the recommendation of the Genesee County Health Department. But there were no concerns with indoor air quality, Superintendent Jason Smith said.
Genesee County Public Health Educator Kaitlin Pettine said that the department was in touch with the school district Tuesday and told it that Western New York was still in Moderate Air Quality Alert status.
“We told the school district that they could cancel afternoon activities out of an abundance of caution, but this was not a mandate or a recommendation at this point,” Pettine said. “We have not talked with any other school districts at this time. Monroe County is in the Orange Level, so many school districts have cancelled after school activities in Monroe County. We would recommend that very young people and those with respiratory health issues such as heart disease and asthma, may want to limit strenuous activity outdoors.”
Finger Lakes Raceway also canceled its races in Ontario County.
In Steuben County, the Health Department warned residents to be aware of unhealthy air quality due to wildfires. Unhealthy air quality can be dangerous for those with asthma, respiratory issues, and for children and seniors who are more vulnerable to air pollution than adults.
“We have been working with our schools to make sure children stay healthy,” said Public Health Director Darlene Smith. “When the air quality is at an unhealthy level, it’s important for everyone to consider what outdoor activities can be rescheduled for when the air quality is better.”
The department said that to find information on local current air quality measures, updated hourly, go to airnow.gov. When air quality is deemed unhealthy, it is recommended to avoid strenuous outdoor activities and to generally limit active time outdoors.
County Public Health Education Coordinator Lorelei Wagner said school districts were reaching out to the Health Department regularly on Tuesday and a superintendents’ call was set up.
“They’re all just trying to decide what would be the safest and healthiest routes for their schools and their children,” she said. “I know some schools canceled some games and sports after school. Each school was able to determine what would work best for their community.
“We have obviously heard some concerns about how it looks outside, how it smells, people wondering what’s going on,” she said.
Wagner said the department was telling people about airnow.gov.’s updates.
“We did share that with everyone so they can check that whenever they want and make decisions ... based on what the air quality is,” she said.
In the meantime, an air quality advisory has been issued for Wednesday in Western New York.
The affected area includes Genesee, Livingston, Orleans and Wyoming counties.
It’s expected the region will continue to be impacted by fine particulate matter, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
The region continues to be affected by smoke and haze from wildfires in Canada.
Exposure can cause short-term health effects such as irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat; coughing, sneezing, and a runny nose; and shortness of breath.
Exposure to elevated levels of fine particulate matter can also worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. People with heart or breathing problems, and children and the elderly may be particularly sensitive.
Going indoors may reduce exposure. Some other ways to reduce exposure are to minimize outdoor and indoor sources and avoid strenuous activities in areas where fine particle concentrations are high.
(Includes reporting by Matt Surtel.)