The State of New Jersey is still dealing with the aftermath of the Canada wildfire, which started earlier this month. Today, Wednesday the 7th, marks the third day of New Jersey seeing some of the worst air pollution seen in years.
Canada itself is pretty much on track for its worst-ever wildfire season, which spread heavy smoke to not only New Jersey, but the entire northern U.S. The air quality is so unhealthy that Newark, NJ has an index reading of 205, a high enough value for a purple alert.
This poses risk of health effects, which means residents are better off staying indoors. For those of you who don't know, unhealthy air for the public start at a value of 151. Atlantic County came in earlier today at an air quality index of 177, which spread to more regions of New Jersey as well.
Gov. Phil Murphy himself urged elderly and otherwise ill residents of New Jersey to limit their outdoor activities today, including strenuous activities. Even young people were urged to go outside as little as possible.
Experts forecast conditions will get worse towards the afternoon. Large feathers of smoke are expected to come down towards 4pm from the fires that are still largely out of control in Quebec. Schools are being proactive and cancelling all outdoor activities, such as recess.
Although not as high as some parts of New Jersey, Essex and Morris counties issued a red alert Tuesday night (yesterday). Unhealthy conditions occur due to the dark skies with haze. The odor from wood burning is quite strong.
The state Department of Environmental Protection is saying conditions are worse today than they were yesterday, and I can confirm this based on my personal account. The smoke today appears much more. In Hudson County, the air and skies have a yellow-ish color.
What's next? Should you stay inside?
Firefighters are working to contain the New Jersey forest fire, according to the Associated Press. The 5,00-acre forest fire is spreading wildly, and hopefully it can be contained.
In the mean time, it would be wise to remain indoors and to avoid activities like walking outside for too long, running, or any other type of sports activities. For those with health issues, staying inside is the best thing to do.
If possible, shut your windows to avoid unhealthy air from coming in.
How can I check if the air quality has improved?
Get updates as soon as they are available about air quality forecast on the AirNow website. You'll get state and regional readings there, which is wise to do before you leave your house.
Even for those who are healthy, experts recommending limiting your outdoor activities during this time. Anything that would put stress on your lungs like running or hiking is not recommended.
In the mean time, in addition to closing your windows, leaving your air conditioner on or getting an air purifier can also help maintain your indoor air quality.
And, if you have an N95 facemask, you can avoid most of the smoke particles from entering your lungs (if you wear the mask correctly).
Just how bad is this air pollution?
To put it in perspective, New Jersey's air quality was worse last night than some countries with the worst air pollution in the world. Pakistan is the highest at 169, followed by New Delhi at 152, and Beijing at 103.
And today, air quality is much worse than all of those in most parts of New Jersey. By 9pm, Newark reported an air quality index score of 169, perhaps the highest in the state.
In general, the air pollution in New Jersey is quite high, mostly from car emissions. It's so poor that the American Lung Association gave Bergen County an F. But this is not new. In fact, small pieces of soot have been polluting New Jersey's air for years.
Most of comes from power plants that use coal or older diesel engines. Burning trees wasn't New Jersey's problem until this week. But with more "toxic" plants closing and such diesel engines being retired, New Jersey now scores decent marks for low soot.
From 2019 through 2021, New Jersey didn't experience any red days and all counties scored an A or B, directly from the American Lung Association.
Will the smoke go away? and when?
We don't have information as to when the smoke will go away. According to the National Weather Service, the smoke is expected to remain at least through Wednesday.
For the smoke to disappear, the fires in Quebec will have to be fully "put out". While rain is expected in parts of Quebec this week, officials there say they are having a tough time containing the fire.
Extreme heat and unpredictable weather patterns, mixed with drought, often cause such fierce wildfires, which is what we've seen in the past few years in many regions around the world.
Even in New Jersey, we are seeing wildfire season start earlier than usual in the past few years. With May being the dryest we've seen in years, it was a matter of time until we saw such wildfires.
Stay tuned for more news on this in our news section.