Air quality issues brought on by wildfire smoke could be a new and recurring issue that public health officials in Mid-Atlantic states need to start planning for.
A Grist article recently delved into what is being characterized as a delayed and insufficient response by New York City health officials in dealing with air pollution last week from Canadian wildfires. Researchers from Stanford categorized Wednesday afternoon as the worst in the nations history for air pollution from wildfire smoke. According to the article, the National Weather Service gave initial warning signs on Monday evening, allowing city leadership a short window of time to send safety notifications and distribute masks before the worst of the crisis set in.
Unfortunately there was no communication short of a tweet 36 hours into the crisis. Eventually New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams urged residents to take precautions and told people to mask up and stay indoors. Additionally, mask distribution efforts came well after the pollution had descended over the tri-state area.
The article explained that smoke from wildfires is a major public health risk since it contains fine particles that can lodge in lung tissue and other pollutants that can aggravate the respiratory system. With global temperatures rising, more frequent fires across the continent can spread these contaminants to cities like New York that have not previously had an emergency plan for these types of problems. A number of major steps were identified as priorities for local governments looking to prepare with the primary one being to communicate early and often.
From the article:
“You want to hear your local government officials, your local university officials, and your local hospital officials all putting out information,” Scott Sklar, a professor at George Washington University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, told Grist.
Additional steps public health leaders can be taking were outlined including:
- coordinated mask distribution
- text alerts in advance of worsening conditions
- risk communication with business owners
- programs to provide homeless people with emergency shelter
- providing low-income residents with air purifiers