CHICAGO — (TodayNews) — For Chicagoans planning a long outdoor run on Monday, “today isn’t necessarily the right day to do it,” according to Kim Biggs of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.
Vast swaths of the northern United States woke up to unhealthy air quality on Monday morning or experienced it by noon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow.gov Smoke and Fire map.
Fine particulate pollution caused by smoke from wildfires in Canada causes a red air quality index zone, which means it is unhealthy for everyone. The particles, known as PM2.5, are small enough to penetrate deep into the lungs and cause short-term problems such as coughing and itchy eyes, but in the long term can affect the lungs and heart.
The EPA recommends light and short outdoor activities when air quality indices exceed 150 on the agency’s map. On Monday afternoon, that mark reached cities and regions such as Lincoln, Nebraska; Peoria, Illinois; Fort Wayne, Indiana; Cleveland and Columbus in Ohio; Huntsville, Alabama; Knoxville and Chattanooga in Tennessee; Greensboro, North Carolina; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Syracuse and Utica in New York.
Sensitive groups, including those with heart and lung conditions, the elderly, children and pregnant women, should consider staying inside, experts warn.
While air quality in the Chicago area was poor early Monday, it has already improved to moderate and is expected to continue throughout the day, Biggs said.
Relief from smoke crossing the Canada-U.S. border won’t be immediate, experts say. Big fires in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan are likely to continue spreading smoke throughout the summer and possibly into early fall, Montana Department of Environmental Quality meteorologist Aaron Offseier said.
“With this round, the worst is behind us,” Ofseijer said. “Unfortunately, there is still a ton of smoke from wildfires north of the border. Every time we have a northerly wind, we will be dealing with Canadian wildfire smoke.”
Climate change and rising temperatures are making the environment more prone to wildfires and more susceptible to stagnant air masses, explained Dr. Ravi Kalhan, a pulmonologist and professor of medicine and preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
“This is not normal,” he said of repeated air quality warnings in the Midwest this summer.
“We continue these activities. It’s not one bad day of the year,” Kalhan said.
The Canadian Interagency Wildfire Center website reported 882 active fires, of which 581 were deemed “out of control” as of Monday afternoon.
Anthony Izaguirre and Matthew Brown contributed to this report from Albany, New York and Billings, Montana. Savage is a member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on hidden issues.
Copyright 2023 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or distributed without permission.