Nationwide health threat is expected to continue all summer
An unhealthy, grayish haze darkened the sky in Camden, Burlington and Gloucester counties last week as smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to pollute American skies.
South Jersey was under a Code Red Fine Particles Action Day Alert on June 29, as was a large swath of the nation, including cities like Chicago and Atlanta. Three weeks ago, the Air Quality Index was over 400, the highest number ever recorded. Last week, it was over 200.
The problem is expected to continue all summer.
The Code Red alert signified that air is unhealthy to breathe and “sensitive” people – including those with heart or lung disease, the elderly and young people – may experience health effects.
“Even if you aren’t classified as a sensitive individual or have pre-existing conditions, we are still recommending for everyone to try to minimize the time they are spending outside,” warned Dr. Paschal Nwako, Camden County’s health officer, in a health alert issued last week.
An estimated 127 million people in the U.S. were under air quality alerts in the Midwest and Northeast on June 29. Since Jan. 1, nearly 30,000 square miles of Canadian land in forests has burned, a record for the country whose fire season began in May and runs through October.
If the pollution and smoke drifts in again this summer, Nwako suggested people take precautions.
“Strongly consider canceling outdoor events and gatherings,” he said. “Avoid going outdoors as much as possible. Avoid excessive activities outdoors, such as jogging or exercising. If you have to go outdoors, wear a high-quality mask, like an N-95 or KN-95 mask.”
Nwako also advised the community to avoid highly congested areas and spaces where air pollution may be high, like main streets or highways, and areas with low air circulation. He also advised closing all windows and doors to minimize air pollution in a home and recirculating the air inside with fans to avoid bringing in more pollution.
“To further reduce the amount of pollution across the county, we are also asking residents to avoid unnecessary trips in their cars, avoid idling and carpool, if possible,” Nwako continued. “We also encourage residents to not use gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.”
The main reason for the public health concern about air quality is based on the amount of fine particulate matter in the air, defined as concentrations of 2.5 microns or smaller, and better known as PM2.5. These particles are tiny and easily inhaled. According to the World Health Organization, PM2.5 is responsible for the biggest proportion of health effects from air pollution.