Canadian wildfire smoke once again triggered poor air quality across the state and put Long Island under an ozone warning Monday.
The air quality index forecast was 108 for Long Island on Monday, a rate deemed unhealthy for people with respiratory issues and other sensitive groups. It is expected to drop down to 87 on Tuesday, considered moderate air quality.
Particulate matter from the wildfires is causing more serious unhealthy air quality across the central and western parts of the state as well as the Adirondacks and upper Hudson Valley. New York City and Lower Hudson Valley have been designated unhealthy for certain groups, also due to particulate matter, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“It's been an extraordinary summer, there’s no two ways about it,” DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said at a Monday afternoon news conference. “Extraordinary levels of smoke here in New York with the record wildfires, 25 million acres burning in Canada, something that we haven't seen in decades. He noted the "incredible levels of smoke" comes as there were "unprecedented" floods in the mid-Hudson Valley and parts of the Adirondacks.
Seggos said he can’t recall a time within the last several decades where the agency had to issue as many air quality health advisories due to wildfires.
Long Island's air quality is expected to improve Tuesday but the advisory will continue for eastern Lake Ontario, central New York, the Upper Hudson Valley, and the Adirondacks, he said. The current forecast is for moderate air quality in New York City due to particulate matter.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has said the state is making hundreds of thousands of N95-style masks available to New Yorkers.
State Health Commissioner James McDonald said masks are effective at helping keep particulate matter out of a person’s respiratory system, where it can cause inflammation and trigger problems with a person’s lungs and heart.
“I think it's really important for New Yorkers to listen to their bodies,” he said. “If you go outside and the air quality index is high and you're coughing, eyes are burning, your nose is running, that's a time to say, 'Hey, I need to put back on my N95 mask, or I need to go inside into a safer space.”
Masks, however, are not as helpful when there is an ozone alert, he said.
During an ozone alert, "try to stay inside as much as you can,” McDonald said.
State officials said the chemical compounds found in wildfire smoke can enhance ozone production downstate.
"When the 'smoke' is transported from the source of the fire to somewhere else it 'cooks' under sunlight, and ozone as well as more particles can be produced," explained Paul Shepson, dean of Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, in an email. "It is chemistry in the air that produces ozone and particulate matter, and that chemistry goes faster when it is warmer, and when it is more humid."
Unhealthy ground level ozone generally occurs on hot sunny days in urban environments, when pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, and other sources chemically react in the presence of sunlight, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“This is pretty typical for us in the summertime,” said Nelson Vaz, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service. “Any time you get these stagnant hot, humid air masses and combine that with the sunlight, the heat and the smog.”
Vaz said the wildlife smoke is moving from the Great Lakes and western New York areas and is not expected to go much further east than the Hudson River.
“On Long Island, we are getting these southerly winds off the water, bringing in a fresher air mass,” he said.
Rain is expected for Tuesday but not the downpours that parts of Nassau and Suffolk counties experienced on Sunday morning, he said.
The state is prepared to utilize emergency cellphone alerts to warn New Yorkers if the AQI exceeds the 200 threshold for "very unhealthy" air and is sustained for longer than an hour. Those alerts would be transmitted through the Wireless Emergency Alert system, managed by the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.