Multiple North American states issue air quality alerts after severe Canadian wildfires send plumes of smoke south of the border.
Orange haze, shrouded landmarks and heavily polluted air. These are the scenes many Americans are faced with after severe wildfires in Canada continue to travel south, blanketing northeastern states since yesterday.
Air quality alerts were quickly issued by the state of New York and others including Massachusetts and Connecticut. Advice from local authorities soon followed, recommending that all outdoor activity be limited to the greatest extent possible, and that any at-risk individuals such as those with pre-existing conditions and children avoid the outdoors altogether.
The smoke has been moving south since May, and continues to cause disruptions to infrastructure and communities. According to the latest figures from AirNow, Susquehanna Valley, Pennsylvania has an Air Quality Index of 475 (shown in a burgundy colour on the map below) meaning its air is currently hazardous to health.
The latest status report from the Québec government warns that “Numerous forest fires are forcing thousands of evacuations in several regions of Québec and are threatening essential infrastructure. The resulting smoke is also compromising the health of individuals, especially at-risk populations.”
“I don’t remember fires of this scale in the last 10 years,”
Eric James, a modelling expert with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Science at the University of Colorado, who is also with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the AP. “The month of May was just off the charts — record warm in much of Canada.”
Strong winds are responsible for transporting the smoke across such long distances. An unfortunate wind trajectory meant that the harmful smoke particulates were carried across the northeastern United States.
Climate change could be responsible for the unprecedented Canadian weather that led to these wildfires according to climate experts. Marta Schaaf, Amnesty International’s Director of Climate, Economic and Social Justice, and Corporate Accountability Programme had this to say on the matter.
“Climate change is worsening the scale of wildfires worldwide, as rising temperatures lead to longer and more destructive fire seasons. This year has already seen unusually severe wildfires in Russia, Spain, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Central America, according to Copernicus, the EU’s earth observation monitoring programme. Large-scale wildfires aggravate climate change by burning forests which have locked-in large amounts of carbon.”
“There is a clear disconnect between the harm that people are facing and attempts to prolong and expand production of fossil fuels which are the primary cause of the climate crisis. These worsening fires are an obvious indication of a warming world.”
“Greenhouse gas emissions have already increased temperatures globally by 1.2C compared to pre-industrial levels.”
“Unless we urgently change course, and rapidly phase out fossil fuels, the world will get hotter and impacts such as these fire events will worsen. We should not be lulled by promises from the fossil fuel lobby that carbon capture and storage, which is unproven on a large scale, is an answer to this growing global crisis.”
For more information:
- NOAA – www.noaa.gov
- AirNow – www.airnow.gov
- AP – https://apnews.com
- Gouvernement du Québec – https://www.quebec.ca
- Amnesty International – www.amnesty.org