BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The thick, smoky air is not going anywhere, anytime soon. It’s making it difficult for some to breathe and causing school districts to cancel outdoor activities.
If you took a step outside, even for just a few minutes, on Wednesday, it probably smelled like a fire was burning in your neighborhood, but in fact, the smoke filled air was from hundreds of miles away.
Smoke, haze and even ash is filling the skies across the state. All of the unhealthy air is caused by wildfires in Quebec and Ontario, Canada. A low pressure system has anchored itself over New England causing air to circulate and travel more than 400 miles to the region.
“I’ve lived here all my life and this is unprecedented for me,” Chris Murawski, executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of WNY, told News 4. “They’re coming down to New York because of a change in the weather pattern. A more northeasterly wind rather than a southwesterly wind which we normally get. We’re getting that smoke down here and that’s driving the air quality index really high.”
Air quality is measured by an index. Normally, Western New York is in the ‘green’ shading or ‘good’ level of concern category. On Wednesday, the region hovered in the ‘red’ to ‘maroon’ range, which is ‘unhealthy’ to ‘hazardous’. Parts of Central New York and New York City averaged in the ‘maroon’ or ‘hazardous’ range and had some of the worst air quality on the planet.
Dr. Samuel Cloud works in the ECMC Emergency Room where he expects more patients with respiratory illnesses because of the smoke.
“Typically these things become cumulative over a couple of days. I do anticipate this weekend we probably will be seeing an increase in respiratory disease,” Dr. Cloud, Chief Medical Officer at ECMC, said.
“The best way to avoid adverse health outcomes from this poor air quality is to stay inside. When you’re staying inside you want to keep out the outdoor air,” Dr. Gale Burstein, Erie County Health Commissioner, added.
Buffalo-based Austin Air manufactures air purifiers and have helped millions of wildfire victims on the west coast. Now, the company is helping people in its own backyard.
“It’s not just organic matter where you have trees, vegetation those types of things. It’s burning man-made structures, so then you have metals, you have plastics, you have all these different types of compounds that are then mixing. You are then producing formaldehyde, VOCs, things that are problematic,” Stacey Malesiewski, Austin Air’s director of marketing, said.
She says getting an air filtration system with carbon is the best way to absorb these harmful chemicals that make their way indoors.
Because the weather is warmer, people may be tempted to grill or have an open flame outdoors, which fire officials say could be dangerous in these dry, hazy conditions.
“A lot of people are barbecuing on their front porch, back porch patio. Make sure the grill is not too close, especially if you have wooden railings and things of that nature,” Buffalo Fire Commissioner William Renaldo said.
Medical experts say you can wear an N-95 mask outdoors to filter out the particulate matter, but that people should avoid being outside until the smoke dissipates.
Across the northeast, some airports were experiencing grounds tops or significant delays because of the thick haze. The Buffalo-Niagara International Airport says it does not expect a ground stop or any travel hiccups because of the smoke.
Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.