An air quality health advisory for fine particulate matter for most regions in New York State was issued Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday last week by New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and Department of Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald, as the air quality reached “unhealthy” air quality index levels due to more than 100 wildfires raging in Canada.
Due to the smoke, people throughout Putnam County – and the Hudson Valley, the state and beyond – saw hazy skies, picked up a “campfire” smell, and may have even felt health effects similar to allergies.
DEC and DOH issue air quality health advisories when meteorologists predict levels of pollution, either ozone or fine particulate matter, are expected to exceed an air quality index value of 100. An “unhealthy” level consists of a value of 151 to 200.
The AQI was created as a way to correlate levels of different pollutants to one scale, with a higher AQI value indicating a greater health concern.
Fine particulate matter consists of tiny solid particles or liquid droplets in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter, according to the DEC. PM 2.5 can be made of many different types of particles and often come from processes that involve combustion (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, as well as coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath, according to the DOH. Exposure to elevated levels of fine particulate matter can also worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease.
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.
Last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul encouraged New Yorkers – including school districts – to postpone any outdoor activities in impacted regions until conditions improved. Accordingly, the New York State Gaming Commission directed all tracks to stop all horse racing, training and workouts until further notice.