Air quality warnings are in effect for up to 100 million people in the US.
Thick smoke from Canadian wildfires to the north descended on New York this week, causing some to mask up. In some areas, people can smell the smoke in the air and the skies are hazy.
Air quality levels throughout the city are ‘very unhealthy’, according to the US government online platform AirNow, which also warned against outdoor activities.
An online calculator suggested breathing in the air in New York yesterday for 24 hours was equivalent to smoking six cigarettes.
Smoke originating from Canadian wildfires caused hazardous levels of air pollution across the Northeast. Pictured is a map showing Air Quality Index levels on Tuesday night. Purple areas are where levels were between 201 and 300. Red areas were between 151 and 200
The Environmental Protection Agency uses the Air Quality Index on AirNow to report air quality.
It varies from zero to over 300, with levels 50 and below considered the healthiest.
When levels exceed 150, the general population may experience symptoms.
Today’s air quality in New York City is 170, deemed ‘unhealthy’.
Inhaling this for 24 hours is the same as smoking almost five cigarettes, the online calculator claimed.
It uses PM 2.5 particle concentration — the number of particles in the air that are a specific size.
The health impact of a particle concentration of 22μg/m3 per 24 hours is equivalent to about one cigarette.
Yesterday, technology company IQAir, that tracks air quality and pollution around the world, claimed New York City had the worst air quality of any major city in the world.
City officials have said the smoke could linger for several days, while Washington DC has issued a code red warning for the first time since 2011 over the air quality.
What are the health risks from the smog?
Air pollution can cause breathing difficulties and irritation to the eyes, nose, throat and lungs.
Long-term exposure to air pollution can result in chronic health issues such as severe asthma, preterm birth, heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, dementia and a lower IQ in children.
Smog can be particularly bad for young children, older adults, pregnant women and those with asthma or other respiratory conditions. The risk of respiratory infection is also increased.
Air pollution particles enter the respiratory tract when breathed in through the mouth and nose and can cause inflammation.
Inflammation increases airway responsiveness to irritants such as allergens and can damage or kill cells.
Airway inflammation may also reduce lung function. Some particles are so small they can pass through the lungs into the bloodstream.
Smog can be particularly bad for young children, older adults, pregnant women and those with asthma or other respiratory conditions
The risk of respiratory infection is also increased due to the air pollution
How can I protect myself?
The US government’s online air quality platform recommends that people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teens should reduce their exposure by avoiding strenuous outdoor activities, keeping outdoor activities short and thinking about moving physical activities indoors or rescheduling them.
Brady Scott, a fellow at the American Association for Respiratory Care, a professional organization for respiratory therapists, told NBC he advised that people stay indoors as much as possible and keep doors and windows closed.
People should do this even while exercising, as it causes stress on the lungs.
Those with asthma should watch their symptoms closely and make sure they have medications to hand.
Mr Scott said: ‘People know their bodies really well. If they see some changes they believe are related to bad air, perhaps they need to contact a physician or advanced practice provider.’
Dr Purvi Parikh, an allergist and immunologist at the Allergy & Asthma Network, an advocacy group for people with asthma, allergies and related conditions, said that smoke can be especially bad for pregnant women as their lung capacity is already reduced due to their growing stomachs.
She also said that people should keep their homes well-ventilated, and those who need to go out can wear a mask or N95 respirator.
Dr Wynne Armand, a physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and associate director of the MGH Center for the Environment and Health, said people should not dust or mow the lawn when the air quality is low.
Burning candles or using a gas stove can also make it worse.
If people experience a cough, trouble breathing, chest pain or wheezing or hear a whistling sound in the chest, Dr Parikh said.
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