Story at a glance

  • Several states and cities issued air quality warnings this week as wildfires rage out West.
  • High volumes of particulate matter were specifically cited by state government advisories.
  • The fires are continuing to burn hundreds of thousands of acres across dozens of Western states.

As wildfires continue to rage out West, smoke from the flames is tracking eastward, prompting newly affected states to issue weather advisories as East Coasters see hot temperatures and smoggy conditions.

New York was one of the first to do so, issuing an air quality health advisory for the entire state. 

The warning cited fine particulate matter as a specific concern. The advisory was issued by both New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos and State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker on Tuesday.

Fine particulate matter are small particles emitted into the atmosphere from fires or other disasters. Should they exceed 2.5 microns in diameter, they pose a threat to public health and can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, prompting coughing or shortness of breath.


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Longer-term effects can exacerbate medical conditions like asthma and heart diseases.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection also issued their own air quality warning, specifically, a Code Orange Air Quality Action Day to warn residents of excess particulate matter in the air. 

The southern counties in the states are of most concern. Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Philadelphia, Lehigh, Cumberland and York Counties in Pennsylvania were all named as being sensitive to particulate matter resulting from the fires.

The code level “Orange” is classified as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups” for Pennsylvania.

Current maps for Maryland and surrounding states also note that air quality levels are “Moderate.” Further south in North Carolina and in Tennessee, certain regions are classified as “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.”

Even cities as far north as Toronto in Canada issued weather advisories earlier this week. 

These come as a fire in southern Oregon — also known as the Bootleg Fire — has spread to nearly 400,000 acres of scorched land.


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Published on Jul 22, 2021