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New York City 's Statue of Liberty sits behind a cloud of haze from the western wildfires. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Smoke from the wildfires engulfing the U.S. West and Canada and carrying harmful air pollution has triggered air quality alerts in the Upper Midwest and East Coast cities including New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service.

Driving the news: The coast to coast smoke, which is clearly visible from space, is due to the nearly 300 wildfires burning in British Columbia and the more than 80 large blazes in the U.S.

  • The towering pyrocumulus clouds coming off these fires is lofting smoke all the way into the stratosphere, and the jet stream is carrying the smoke eastward across the country.

Our thought bubble: Due to the presence of small particulate matter, wildfire smoke can be hazardous to human health, even many, many miles downwind. The fires are also a source of carbon dioxide emissions, thereby acting to worsen global warming.

By the numbers: Smoke from the fires blanketed New York City sending its air quality index to an 170 before dropping to a still-unhealthy 158 on Tuesday — second only to the AQI of 174 in Krasnoyarks, Russia.

  • Boston, Massachusetts, and Hartford, Connecticut, also recorded unhealthy AQI readings that were higher than 150 on Tuesday.

Context: The wildfires, many of which started when a severe heat wave erupted in June, have been linked by scientists to human-caused climate change.

In photos:
A haze over the Manhattan skyline on July 20. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Sunlight interacting with wildfire smoke, causing the sun to appear with a reddish-orange tint in New York City on July 20. Photo: Lokman Vural Elibol/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
The Statue of Liberty barely visible in the distance in New York City on July 20. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

Go deeper

Sep 22, 2021 - World

WHO revises air quality guidelines to reduce deaths from pollution

Smoke from California wildfires over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco in August 2021. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The World Health Organization on Wednesday updated air quality guidelines it set roughly 15 years ago, saying that negative health effects from air pollutants can begin at lower levels than it previously thought.

Why it matters: The changes are meant to reduce deaths from pollutants that cause cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and prematurely kill an estimated 7 million people around the world annually, according to the WHO.

Democrats release full text of Biden's $3.5T reconciliation package

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday unveiled the full text of President Biden's $3.5 trillion social spending package.

Why it matters: Democrats are racing to finish negotiations and get the bill on the floor as soon as possible so Pelosi can fulfill her promises to both House centrists and progressives about the timing and sequencing of passing the party's dual infrastructure packages.

Biden pushes massive economic plan despite "stalemate"

President Biden speaking from the White House on Sept. 24. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden on Friday urged congressional Democrats to overcome differences surrounding his multi-trillion-dollar economic proposal but said he's still confident it will pass.

Why it matters: It's currently unclear how the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the $3.5 trillion reconciliation package will move forward with moderate and progressive Democrats in disagreement over critical portions of the legislation.