Hazy start to the morning at Smith Point County Park/Flight...

Hazy start to the morning at Smith Point County Park/Flight 800 Memorial in Shirley on Tuesday. Credit: Tom Lambui

New Yorkers are being urged to limit their outdoor activities, through Wednesday, due to the smoky and particulate-filled air moving south from wildfires in Canada, state officials said Tuesday.

There was an even stronger warning for people with underlying lung conditions to stay inside when possible because the poor air quality could trigger asthma attacks, health officials said.

“New York is facing extraordinary air quality conditions right now,” said state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos during a news briefing with reporters Tuesday. “The sky is hazy, visibility is terrible and you can smell the smoke in the air … if you have been out in the street today walking around, you can probably experience the impacts to your eyes, your nose and your throat.”

“We're recommending New Yorkers to minimize outdoor activities and if at all possible, go inside, avoid strenuous activities in the outdoors,” Seggos said.

The DEC has issued several air quality warnings in recent days due to plumes of smoke from wildfires raging in eastern Canada's Nova Scotia province that the National Weather Service said made their way over New York and throughout the northeast United States.

Agency officials said the warnings would continue on Wednesday for Long Island, the New York City Metro region, eastern Lake Ontario, Central New York and Western New York.

Seggos also asked New Yorkers to refrain from having open fires in their backyards, whether it is a large campfire or burning of sticks, leaves and other debris because it could exacerbate the pollution at the local level.

Backyard barbecues and smaller campfires are still ok, he said. 

State officials said local school districts will decide whether or not to postpone programs or move them indoors. They said coaches should keep a close eye on players with asthma and consider rotating players or even canceling events if the air is particularly bad in that region.

The last time New York had smoke that impacted air quality at this level was 2002, officials said. The cause was also wildfires out of Canada.

The smoky air is carrying fine particulate matter, including tiny solid particles or liquid droplets that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter — the result of pollutants like fires and exhaust, according to the DEC.

“Particulate matter of the PM 2.5 micron size can penetrate far, can move long distances in the environment, can also penetrate pretty deeply into our lungs and make it harder for our whole respiratory tract to work and effectively bring in oxygen,” said Gary Ginsberg, director of the state Health Department’s Center for Environmental Health.

People with underlying lung diseases such as asthma, COPD and emphysema should take extra precautions during the air quality alert, said Dr. Mangala Narasimhan, a pulmonologist and senior vice president of Critical Care Services at Northwell Health.

“Those patients are affected the most,” she said. “It irritates the lungs, it causes some shortness of breath, a cough … it definitely triggers those patients that have underlying lung disease.”

Other people without those conditions may feel a slight sore throat or a mild tickle in the back of their throat, she said.

She advised people with underlying lung diseases to try and stay indoors until the air quality improves and keep the windows closed. They can run air conditioners and fans inside to circulate the air and stay cool.

Ginsberg said exercising athletes and those participating in strenuous outdoor work may also be most at risk.

“Our general advice is to go slow,” he said. “Be a guide for yourself and realize these are unusual circumstances.”

People having difficulty breathing and going up or downstairs, whether that's outdoors or indoors, should take it easy and contact their health care providers, Ginsberg said.

When asked about the use of masks to protect against the particulates, Ginsberg said even though they did provide some protection, he was concerned about proper ventilation, especially for anyone who would be taking part in strenuous activity. “We don’t want to see people wearing masks and then going out and trying to mow the lawn,” he said.

National Weather Service lead meteorologist John Cristantello said a thick plume of smoke over western New York was expected to reach Long Island on Tuesday and could last through Wednesday.

Tuesday's thunderstorms over Long Island did little to ease the haze, Cristantello said. The rain could permeate the smoke, dragging it down and enhancing the smell of the distant wildfires. 

Haze over Long Island has reduced visibility from up to 10 miles to four to five miles, he said.

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