NY Governor Hochul Updates New Yorkers on Canadian Wildfires and Its Effect on the State
Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Departments of Environmental Conservation and Health provided an update today on the effects of ongoing Canadian wildfires on New York’s air quality. More than 100 wildfires currently burning in Quebec are causing hazy conditions across much of the state. An Air Quality Health Advisory is in effect until tomorrow for Long Island, New York City Metro, Lower Hudson Valley, Upper Hudson Valley, Adirondacks, Eastern Lake Ontario, and Central New York regions.
“When many New Yorkers walked outside today, the hazy skies caused by wildfire smoke were hard to miss,” Governor Hochul said. “New York State experts are monitoring our air quality every day to ensure New Yorkers have the latest information about current air quality in their communities and what they can do to protect themselves. I encourage New Yorkers, especially those sensitive to air quality, to take appropriate steps to help limit risk of exposure.”
Earlier today, a media availability was held with DEC and DOH experts to provide updates on the effects of the ongoing wildfires on air quality. Last week, a DEC Forest Ranger and expert wildland firefighter was deployed to assist with efforts to contain wildfires raging in eastern Canada. New York State often deploys highly trained wildland firefighters to help battle fires as part of interstate and international firefighting compacts. The DEC Forest Ranger is serving as the crew boss of an interstate Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Compact crew comprised of firefighters from Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine to assist efforts in Nova Scotia. This is the first time a New York State Forest Ranger has been deployed to Canada since wildfires in Quebec in 2005.
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “When these historic wildfires started in Canada, DEC meteorologists were closely monitoring weather patterns and other data to help inform air quality forecasts. DEC and our partners at the Department of Health will continue to keep the public informed with the latest on air quality alerts, and I also continue to hope that all the responding firefighters, including our Forest Ranger, remain safe while working to get these blazes under control.”
Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said, “Given the heightened air pollution levels we are seeing across much of the state, the New York State Department of Health recommends that New Yorkers limit strenuous outdoor activity to reduce the risk of adverse health effects. People who are especially sensitive to the effects of elevated levels of pollutants, including the very young and those with pre-existing respiratory problems such as heart disease or asthma, should avoid spending time outdoors, if possible. Those who experience symptoms or have symptoms that worsen should consider consulting their personal physician.”
DEC and DOH issue Air Quality Health Advisories when DEC meteorologists predict levels of pollution, either ozone or fine particulate matter are expected to exceed an Air Quality Index (AQI) value of 100. Today’s advisory is due to fine particulate matter carried by the wind from the wildfires. The AQI was created as an easy way to correlate levels of different pollutants to one scale, with a higher AQI value indicating a greater health concern.
Fine Particulate Matter
Fine particulate matter consists of tiny solid particles or liquid droplets in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter. PM 2.5 can be made of many different types of particles and often come from processes that involve combustion (e.g. vehicle exhaust, power plants, and fires) and from chemical reactions in the atmosphere.
Exposure can cause short-term health effects, such as irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, sneezing, 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 to PM 2.5.
When outdoor levels are elevated, going indoors may reduce exposure. If there are significant indoor sources of PM 2.5 (tobacco, candle or incense smoke, or fumes from cooking) levels inside may not be lower than outside. Some ways to reduce exposure are to minimize outdoor and indoor sources and avoid strenuous activities in areas where fine particle concentrations are high. Additional information on ozone and PM 2.5 is available on DEC’s website and on DOH’s website.
Here in New York, dry conditions along the Lake Ontario Plains, Leatherstocking Region, and Southern Tier are resulting in a “high” fire danger rating. A high fire danger means all fine, dead fuels ignite readily and fires start easily from most causes, including unattended brush and campfires. Fires may become serious and controlling them difficult unless attacked successfully while still small. The remainder of New York State is at a moderate level of fire danger. An updated fire danger map is available on the DEC website. While the statewide burn ban is no longer in effect, brush burning should only be done when absolutely necessary. Burning garbage or leaves is prohibited year-round in New York State.
Open burning is prohibited in New York, with these exceptions:
- Campfires or any other outdoor fires less than 3 feet in height and 4 feet in length, width or diameter are allowed.
- Small cooking fires are allowed.
- Ceremonial or celebratory bonfires are allowed. Disposal of flags or religious items in a small-sized fire is allowed, if it is not otherwise prohibited by law or regulation.
- Only charcoal or dry, clean, untreated or unpainted wood can be burned.
- Fires cannot be left unattended and must be fully extinguished.
For more information about fire safety and prevention, go to DEC’s FIREWISE New York webpage.