The ongoing wildfires in Canada have caused air quality levels to become hazardous, leaving tens of millions of people in North America at risk.
Ontario and Quebec were covered in smoke, and a hazy, orange atmosphere was visible in many parts of the north-eastern US from Tuesday to Wednesday.
During the night, Toronto and New York were briefly identified as two of the cities with the poorest air quality globally.
A large amount of smoke is originating from Quebec due to the presence of 160 active fires in the area.
According to authorities in Canada, the nation is preparing for its most severe wildfire season ever.
Specialists have indicated that a spring season that is warmer and less humid than usual is the cause of this pattern. These circumstances are anticipated to persist throughout the summer months.
On Tuesday, Environment Canada gave Ottawa its most severe warning about air quality, stating that it poses a "very high risk" to human health.
The air quality in Toronto and the areas around it was deemed to be of a "high risk" level.
At the same time, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has determined that the air quality in a large portion of the north-eastern region of the United States is deemed "unhealthy", particularly for individuals who already experience respiratory problems.
It is estimated that approximately 100 million individuals across North America are currently under some type of air quality advisory.
The skyline of New York was covered in a hazy orange layer that obscured famous landmarks such as the Statue of Liberty.
Mayor Eric Adams has announced that all outdoor activities in public schools in the city have been put on hold with no specific time frame given. He has also cautioned that the weather is expected to worsen later in the day.
He suggested that people in New York should minimize their time spent outside as much as they can.
According to people living in the city, the scent of smoke on Wednesday morning resembled that of a bonfire.
Air quality levels in the Washington DC region were marked as "code red" on Wednesday, indicating severe pollution. Meanwhile, Detroit was ranked as the fifth most polluted location globally according to IQAir’s air pollution rankings.
Health experts advise individuals to avoid outdoor physical activities and limit their contact with the smoke due to the hazardous effects it has on both short-term and long-term health.
The worsening air quality has led to the relocation of individuals with respiratory problems, such as asthma, in the Atikamekw community of Opitciwan, situated 350km (217 miles) north of Montreal in Quebec. The reason for this action is due to the smoke which has made breathing difficult for the people living there.
The wildfires in Canada have already destroyed over 3.3 million hectares of land, which is an area 12 times larger than the average for this time of the year over the past decade.
Large numbers of individuals have been forced to leave their homes and relocate to safer
In addition to Quebec, large wildfires are currently raging across several Canadian provinces and territories including British Columbia, Alberta, Ontario, Nova Scotia, and the Northwest Territories.
The likelihood of wildfires is higher due to climate change, which results in hot and dry weather.
Since the start of the industrial revolution, the earth has already experienced a temperature increase of approximately 1.2 degrees Celsius. However, this trend will continue unless governments worldwide take significant action to reduce their emissions.
What are the health impacts of wildfire smoke? According to experts, being exposed to it can lead to a range of health problems.
According to Matthew Adams, who is a professor at the University of Toronto and heads the Centre of Urban Environments, breathing in smoke from wildfires can cause immediate health issues such as difficulty in breathing, a faster heart rate, chest discomfort, or irritation in the eyes, nose, and throat.
Professor Adams stated to the BBC that during days with high levels of air pollution, there will be an uptick in hospital visits, mainly from individuals who already have respiratory conditions.
According to Professor Adams, the smoke caused by wildfires can result in severe and prolonged health complications like lung disease or cancer. This is especially true for individuals residing in regions that frequently experience forest fires.
According to him, the presence of tiny particles in the smoke haze can result in health problems. These particles can penetrate the bloodstream and other areas of the body, leading to potential DNA mutations and other medical conditions.
According to Professor Adams, pregnant women and their unborn babies can be impacted by prolonged exposure to wildfire smoke as per research findings.
Prof Adams recommended that individuals residing in cities distant from the fires but within the current air advisories should restrict their outdoor activities to minimize inhaling the smoke from the wildfires.
He advised not to worry too much and suggested staying indoors to minimize the risk of exposure.
Prof Adams suggested that individuals residing in areas near the fires should wear an N95 mask when going outside to prevent inhaling a majority of the smoke particles.
Canada may experience its most severe wildfire season ever documented.
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