Jul 7, 2023 - Climate

Smoke from Canada may impact our skies all summer

Central Ohio air quality alerts
Data: Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission; Note: 2023 data is preliminary because it has not been validated by the EPA; Chart: Axios Visuals

Canada's unprecedented wildfire season has led to some of the worst local air quality Ohio has experienced in a decade — and we likely haven't seen the last of those eerie, smoky skies.

Why it matters: Even hundreds of miles away from its origins, wildfire smoke is a public health hazard that can aggravate chronic conditions and pose risks for even healthy populations.

Threat level: July is typically Canada's most active wildfire month.

By the numbers: Central Ohio logged nine air quality alerts last month — just one less than the last five years combined, per Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) data.

  • Seven were triggered by fine particle pollution (PM2.5) in the air, a type of alert the region hasn't recorded since 2010.
  • Two of those seven dates (June 28 and 29) had such severe PM2.5 pollution that the air was declared unhealthy for everybody to breathe, not just people with health issues. That hasn't happened since 2003.
  • Less severe air quality alerts, declaring the air unhealthy for sensitive groups, are more common.

The big picture: Since early May, the overall weather pattern across North America has been unusual, with hallmarks of a warming climate, Axios' Andrew Freedman reports.

  • Natural Resources Canada forecasts above-normal fire activity across most of the nation through September due to drought and warmer temperatures.
  • This year has already seen the most Canadian acreage burned in any wildfire season since reliable records began in 1959.

Meanwhile, the U.S. wildfire season is also getting longer and more intense, especially in the West.

What they're saying: Under normal circumstances, cars and trucks are the biggest contributors to Central Ohio air pollution, MORPC sustainability officer Brandi Whetstone tells Axios.

  • Small changes can add up — like taking the bus, carpooling or biking, or using an electric lawn mower instead of a gas-powered one.
  • "Everyone can do their part to minimize air pollution, even though we don't have direct control over Canadian wildfires, or the weather patterns that transport smoke into the region," Whetstone says.

Be smart: If you must go outside during a smoky day, an N95 mask will provide protection.

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