Crew from Divad Concrete in Ronkonkoma work on a project on...

Crew from Divad Concrete in Ronkonkoma work on a project on Pinelawn Road In Melville on Thursday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

A day after noxious smoke from Canadian wildfires led Gov. Kathy Hochul to warn New Yorkers, “If you can stay indoors, stay indoors," many on Long Island were outside Thursday: people who repair roads, beautify suburban lawns, patrol beaches and sell sausage and pepper hero sandwiches from roadside food trucks.

On Pinelawn Road in Melville Thursday morning, crews from the Bay Shore construction firm Pratt Brothers and Ronkonkoma-based Divad Concrete were working on a job laying asphalt, pouring a concrete curb and installing a signal light. 

“There’s a little difficulty breathing, irritated eyes,” said Tom Crawford, 60, of Port Jefferson, a Pratt foreman. Working from home, a common post-pandemic practice for some white collar workers, is “not an option,” Crawford said. Nor are lengthy breaks indoors.

Job needs to be done

“[If] we sit in a truck all day," Crawford said, "nothing will get done.” 

Nearby, Divad foreman Manny Andrade said conditions Thursday had improved. The day before, said the Port Jefferson resident, 48,  his “eyes were burning. You could almost taste it.” Andrade had gotten home the night before with “beet-red” eyes and a cough. He’d treated himself with Visine and air conditioning. 

None of the men at the job wore masks. Claudio Leopoldino, 36, a machine operator from Yaphank, said it wasn’t practical. Under the rumble of the machines, he and Andrade sometimes communicate by reading lips.

“You’ve got to suck it up,” he said. “This is our line of work.” 

PSEG workers perform emergency work in Sea Cliff on Thursday.

PSEG workers perform emergency work in Sea Cliff on Thursday. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

On Woodbridge Lane in Sea Cliff, a PSEG Long Island crew was out on a job that could not wait: a large vehicle had snapped a utility pole. Crews that typically fanned out across Long Island had been pulled back because of the smoke and were only doing critical work, said Bill Lombardi, 52, of Port Jefferson Station, the lead safety advocate at the scene. “We’re monitoring health conditions” and making masks available to the workers, who could take their breaks in their trucks if they wished, he said.

“We’re out here in all types of weather: rain, ice storms, heat,” he said, and by comparison, conditions yesterday were “not too bad.”

OSHA warning

On Wednesday, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration warned employers of the need to protect outdoor workers from the smoke. Prolonged exposure to air with fine particulate matter — defined as solid particles or droplets 2.5 microns or less in diameter — may be unhealthy, especially for those with preexisting conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, according to health experts.

For people in that group, “there is a significant risk of precipitating an episode or an attack,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, a pulmonologist and professor of internal medicine and core member of the Program in Public Health at Stony Brook University.

“These are tiny bits of ash that are very acidic and can cause inflammation when they get stuck in airways,” Edelman said. There is evidence suggesting that every additional attack can worsen certain diseases, and for people with heart disease, he said, there may be a connection between air pollution and chest pains or heart attacks. 

Limit time outdoors

Dr. Fred Davis, vice chair of emergency medicine at Northwell Health’s Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New Hyde Park, advised workers to “limit their time outdoors as best as they can,” wear masks and take breaks indoors. People who take medicine for a condition like asthma should keep it accessible. 

Over the last several days, “we’re already seeing a mild increase” in visits from patients complaining of respiratory symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath, headaches and sore throats, Davis said. 

Some jobs adapted.

Lifeguards at Long Island’s state beaches, closed to swimming Wednesday and Thursday because of the smoke, kept watch but were directed to patrol from closed vehicles or to watch from park buildings, said Dan Keefe, a spokesman for New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, in an email. The office offered masks to all employees and encouraged them to take frequent breaks indoors, he said.

Some jobs changed little or not at all.

Stepping away from the privet hedge he was trimming outside a client’s Baldwin home, Gregg Fowler, 55, owner of Baldwin-based Legacy Landscaping and chairman of the Landscape Contractors Association of Long Island, a trade group, said he suspected most of the thousands of workers in his industry on Long Island worked Thursday. 

“You get used to having a face full of dirt and your nose clogged up,” he said. Fowler said he gives his employees paid sick days, but none of them had used them because of the wildfires — not even Wednesday, when the sky looked “biblical.”

At Sausage Kings Mobile, the food truck that sets up most days at Denton Avenue and Jericho Turnpike in an industrial area near the borders of New Hyde Park and Garden City Park, Daniel O’Neill, 35, of Bayside, Queens, said the smoke hadn’t scared off his customers. 

Joe Poblete, 62, a retired banker from New Hyde Park, was eating an early lunch. Yes, he has asthma and yes, Wednesday had left a weird sulfuric taste in his throat, but he was enjoying his sausage and peppers. 

“I’m at that age where whatever happens, happens,” he said. “Why would I deprive myself of patronizing his business and contributing to the economy?”

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