Chicago and Midwest air quality deteriorates as wildfire smoke persists in Canada

A smoky haze blanketed Chicago and much of the upper Midwest from wildfires in Canada on Tuesday, prompting many residents of the country’s third largest city to be shocked by a sudden drop in air quality and forced to wear masks when they ventured outside. Engaged.

Chicagoans were largely spared the severe effects of wildfires earlier this month, when dangerous smoke enveloped parts of the Northeast and Midwest for several days. But there was no respite for them on Tuesday, when officials classified the air in the city and other parts of Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Michigan and Minnesota as unhealthy.

According to IQAir, a Swiss air-quality technology company, the air quality index in Chicago reached 209 by midday, the worst reading of any major city in the world for that day. In Green Bay, Wisconsin, the index was 175; In Grand Rapids, Michigan, it reached 255. Any reading above 100 on the index is a warning for people with respiratory issues to exercise caution.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson warned residents – especially children, older people and those with heart or lung disease – to stay indoors if possible, or wear a mask if they must go outside, to avoid inhaling the smoke. The worst effects of wind can be avoided.

“This summer, cities across North America have seen unhealthy levels of air quality as a result of wildfire smoke, affecting more than 20 million people in New York City; Washington DC; Montreal; And today here in Chicago,” Mr. Johnson said in a statement. “As we work to respond to urgent health concerns in our communities, this relatable episode demonstrates and underscores the damaging impact of the climate crisis on our residents as well as people around the world.”

Other cities in the region, including Milwaukee, were expected to see similar levels and possibly even greater levels of smog on Tuesday.

“Today would generally be seen as a beautiful day to be outdoors,” Forecasters at the National Weather Service Office in Milwaukee wrote. “But the smoke is reducing visibility to just one mile to three miles today.”

Conditions are expected to improve overnight in Chicago and Milwaukee, but fog is expected to linger through Wednesday.

Officials in New York warned that smoky skies could return to their state on Wednesday. Governor Cathy Hochul said air quality could worsen in the western and central parts of the state, and other areas could also be affected.

“Due to gusty winds tonight and the Canadian wildfires, air quality in New York City could worsen tomorrow,” Mayor Eric Adams said on Twitter on Tuesday. He reminded New Yorkers to wear a mask if they leave their homes on Wednesday.

Many people in Chicago were alarmed by the sudden flood of smoke, as the city is rarely affected by air pollution from wildfires. “Has anyone noticed a strange pungent smell in the neighborhood?” a North Side resident asked Tuesday morning on the Nextdoor forum.

Summer camps raced to create new plans for children, to keep them indoors and away from polluted air. Along the shores of Lake Michigan, areas that are usually dense with runners, cyclists and beach-goers during Chicago’s mild summer, the lakefront seemed largely deserted on Tuesday.

The state veterinarian’s office in Michigan has issued an alert for those who own animals, reminding owners to avoid strenuous activities — and that even birds can be affected by unhealthy air.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued its 23rd air quality alert of the year on Tuesday – a record high – as smog blanketed much of the state.

David Brown, the agency’s air quality meteorologist, said Minnesota typically issues no more than two or three air quality alerts a year. The previous record was 21 alerts for the whole of 2021, he said.

Mr. Brown said wildfire season in Canada doesn’t usually start until early July, so Americans in northern states could face the threat of poor air quality in the coming weeks.

“There are a lot of fires that are getting bigger, the hottest days are yet to come,” he said. “This fire will likely continue to grow.”

The latest air quality warning for Minnesota, issued Tuesday morning, was set to expire on Thursday. It covers most of the southern and eastern regions of the state.

judson jones And Ernesto Londono Contributed reporting.

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