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Smoky air will come back throughout the summer. Here's what to do

The Rochester City skyline on June 29, 2023
Darren McGee/Photo by Darren McGee- NYSDED
The Rochester City skyline on June 29, 2023

As New Yorkers enjoy the long holiday weekend that many consider the unofficial start of summer, state health officials say along with checking the barbeque supplies, people also need to pay attention to the air quality levels before venturing out. They say the smoke from Canadian wildfires is likely to continue on and off until fall.

Twice during the month of June, state health officials had to issue alerts about unhealthy air quality caused by smoke from the unusually large number of Canadian wildfires.

Those fires continue to burn, and Gov. Kathy Hochul, at a recent briefing, says the smoke will return periodically.

Governor Kathy Hochul updated New Yorkers on the state's air quality threats on June 29, 2023
Don Pollard, Office of Governor Kathy Hochul
Governor Kathy Hochul updated New Yorkers on the state's air quality threats on June 29, 2023

“The reality is, this is going to be the new normal for New York,” Hochul said on June 29. “And until these wildfires are under control, and we're doing our best to help them, we can expect that there will be intervals, episodes based on the wind shifts.”

Hochul says it’s difficult to predict exactly when the smoky northern air will spread into the state, and how long it will last.

The governor recommends downloading the EPA’s AirNowsite, where you can check the air quality for your zip code. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation website is also monitoring air quality levels.

State officials plan to get the word out in the coming days and weeks through message boards on major highways, and cell phone text alerts, that until now had been reserved for major emergencies, like tornadoes and blizzards.

The governor recommends that people become familiar with what the numbers mean.

“Here’s what we need to know. If your numbers are higher than 200, it's very unhealthy or even hazardous. And everyone in those scenarios should stay inside or be masked,” Hochul said. “We also are talking about the air quality between 151 and 200, that is the red zone on our map, and everyone will be impacted.”

The governor says when the air quality is coded red, then everyone needs to limit their time outdoors. And she says as much as New Yorkers are sick of them, it is time to get those high quality masks out of the drawer, and put them back on.

When the air quality is between 100 and 150, people in sensitive groups need to take precautions, including those with lung and heart issues, pregnant people, and small children.

Hochul and health officials say the most important thing you can do to cope with the periodic smoke is to monitor your own symptoms. A runny nose, cough, or watery eyes is the body’s way of trying to reject the toxins from the fires that are entering people’s lungs.

If you don’t feel well, they say, go inside.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for the New York Public News Network, composed of a dozen newsrooms across the state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.