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Dangerous smoke from Canadian wildfires causes ‘shock waves’ across city: Adams

Wear an N95-type mask; keep windows closed

June 7, 2023 Mary Frost
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UPDATE: At a press conference held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Mayor Eric Adams said that the Air Quality Index in parts of New York City had hit a mind-boggling 484 at 5 p.m., pushing it into the “Hazardous” level — on a scale that runs from 0 to 500. 

It was the mayor’s second press conference of the day on the toxic air quality caused by smoke from Canadian wildfires, and the air had gotten considerably worse since the morning. 

“This is a level that is clearly alarming for New Yorkers,” Adams said.

Conditions were likely to deteriorate through 10 p.m. Wednesday, he said. “While air quality conditions are anticipated to temporarily improve later tonight through [Thursday] morning, they are expected to deteriorate further Thursday afternoon and evening as smoke moves back over the city.” The Air Quality Health Advisory has been extended until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, June 8. 

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Adams added that there may be potential “for significantly improved conditions” by Friday morning, but it was difficult to predict the movement of smoke.

In a stoke of luck for NYC public school children, a professional development day for teachers and administrators had previously been scheduled for Thursday, and students have no classes. Teachers and administrators will be allowed to attend their training sessions remotely, said Schools Chancellor David Banks.

“We will make decisions for Friday tomorrow,” Banks said.

Alternate side of the street parking is suspended on Thursday, and beaches will remain closed.

The city officials reiterated their advice from the morning to stay inside if possible and wear high-quality N95-type masks when outside. 

“I strongly recommend New Yorkers stay indoors, keep windows closed, perform outdoor activities only if absolutely necessary and avoid going to outdoor events if still scheduled,” said NYC Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan. “This is especially true for vulnerable people.” He added, “By high-quality mask I mean an N95, KN95 or KF94.”

“If you feel anxious, if you feel worried, it’s totally understandable. If you just need to talk and be reassured, call 988 — support is standing by,” Vasan said.

Below is the original story.

“As I was out walking the streets [on Tuesday], clearly we knew something was happening that was beyond normal,” Mayor Eric Adams said Wednesday morning at a news conference on the city’s deteriorating air quality caused by Canadian wildfires. 

The mayor, surrounded by officials and commissioners from agencies including the Health, Emergency Management and Sanitation departments, said that the Air Quality Index (AQI), which measures toxic particulate matter, or PM2.5, had climbed to 218 by 10 p.m. in parts of New York City.

This level is labeled as “Very Unhealthy” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“This morning at 7 a.m. the air quality index was 174 in the Bronx, and will remain around that level for at least another day,” Adams said. “This is an unprecedented event in our city and New Yorkers must take precautions. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has issued an Air Quality Health Advisory for all five boroughs.”

The sun rises over a hazy New York City skyline as seen from Jersey City, N.J., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Intense Canadian wildfires are blanketing the northeastern U.S. in a dystopian haze, turning the air acrid, the sky yellowish gray and prompting warnings for vulnerable populations to stay inside. AP Photo/Seth Wenig

“New Yorkers should limit outdoor activity to the greatest extent possible. This is not the day to train for a marathon or to do an outside event with your children,” Adams said. 

Public schools are still in session, but outdoor school activities and lunches have been canceled for Wednesday and this could be extended, depending on the rapidly changing conditions, Schools Chancellor David Banks said.

“The entire system has been fully notified. There are no trips that should be planned, there is no outdoor activity today. We are in the midst of a serious situation and we don’t want to put the health of any of our kids in jeopardy,” Banks said.

While public schools remain open, some private schools have decided to close for the day, including Brooklyn Friends School in Downtown Brooklyn.

Due to low visibility,  there is a traffic management program in effect for flights arriving at La Guardia Airport on Wednesday, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. This is causing some arriving flights to be delayed by roughly two hours.

A N95 mask. AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, file

Wear a high-quality mask

Officials recommended that older adults, children, people with asthma or any underlying health conditions wear a tightly-fitting N95-type mask.

“Avoid going outside unless you absolutely have to. For people who must be outdoors, a high-quality mask like an N95, a KN95 or a KF94 is recommended,” NYC Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said. 

Vasan said that the tiny particulate matter in the air, “Can get it to people’s lungs, cause inflammation and worsen conditions such as asthma, chronic lung disease or underlying heart conditions. Older adults may be particularly vulnerable due to declines in lung function and weaker immune systems. Children may also be more susceptible to poor air quality because their lungs are still developing.”

New York City Health + Hospitals clinics are rescheduling appointments or converting appointments to Telehealth for elderly or vulnerable patients, Vasan said. 

So far, the public hospitals haven’t seen an uptick in emergency admissions caused by the unhealthy air, Dr. Mitch Katz CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals said. However, “There’s no scientific question as to the negative impacts of bad air quality. In the fires in California, they were able, over time, to see the harm.” 

Bad air leads to “more asthma attacks, more heart attacks, more people coming in with angina chest pain due to not sufficient oxygen. This has all been well documented,” he added.

Officials recommended that residents close their windows and use an air purifier if they have one. If using an air conditioner, make sure to close the fresh air intake.

This Air Quality Index chart shows NYC’s air reached the “Very Unhealthy” level on Tuesday. Graphic: NYC DOH

A ‘multi-day event’

Emergency Management Commissioner Zachary Iscol said that smoke is notoriously difficult to forecast, but he expects this condition to be a multiple day event. “So, it’s very important that all New Yorkers sign up for Notify NYC. [To do so] call 311, or go to 

He also recommended that people follow EM’s social media channels. (Make sure to follow the authentic NYC Emergency Management feed on Twitter — @nycemergencymgt — since there are numerous misinformation feeds masquerading as official government entities on Twitter.) 

Iscol warned that this year’s fire season has occurred early in Canada. “The intensity, as well as the number of fires, is higher than usual. It’s usually at this pace in July, so this is something that we could continue to see over the next few months.”

The mayor defended the late notice the city officially gave on the air quality emergency, with the first press release going out at 11:45 p.m. Tuesday. Adams said the city had sent out air quality warnings via social media and the Notify NYC app on Tuesday, and Emergency Management had hosted an interagency meeting on Tuesday for a coordinated approach.

Hazardous smoke from Canadian fires turns the air hazy in Brooklyn on Tuesday, June 6, obscuring views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan beyond. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Heights Promenade tourists get hazy view of Brooklyn Bridge

In Brooklyn, as across the city on Tuesday afternoon, the air smelled like burning wood.

At Brooklyn Bridge Park, the celebrated views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan appeared hazy and the Statue of Liberty could barely be seen, if at all. 

Fewer tourists than usual lined up for ice cream or browsed Photoville, the outdoor photography exhibit on the DUMBO waterfront.

With an AQI breaching 200, New York City’s air was rated the second-most unhealthy air in the entire world Tuesday night by the IQAir website, which tracks air quality and ranks cities by pollution level. Only Delhi, India’s AQI was worse than NYC’s. 

A sickly yellow haze settled over Downtown Brooklyn and Brooklyn Heights on Wednesday, caused by very hazardous smoke from more than 100 fires in Canada. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

By comparison, San Francisco’s AQI was 8, London’s was 37 and Kyiv’s was 35. 

The lower the number, the cleaner the air; higher levels are linked to asthma and other lung conditions, heart disease and even some cancers (at long-term exposure).

A toll-free air quality hotline has been established so New York residents can stay informed on the air quality situation. The number is 1-800-535-1345.

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