Air quality on Long Island improved dramatically on Friday after two days of heavy smoke and respiratory problems for some people, with forecasters saying they think the worst of the haze from Canadian wildfires has passed.
The Air Quality Index in Nassau and Suffolk counties went from the high 100s on Thursday, to about 50 Friday morning, said Jay Engle, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Upton.
From there, it kept getting better throughout the day, dropping as low as the teens, 20s or 30s in some areas, he said.
“The air quality has been really good today,” he said Friday midafternoon. “It’s been dropping and dropping.”
WHAT TO KNOW
- Air quality on Long Island improved dramatically on Friday after two days of heavy smoke and haze from Canadian wildfires.
- Forecasters expect Saturday to be even better, and believe the worst of the smoke has passed.
- State health officials reported an uptick in people suffering respiratory problems linked to the smoke.
“We think we have probably seen the worst of it,” he added. “We are looking for air quality to remain noticeably better through the day tomorrow.”
Winds that were sending the smoke from Canada straight at New York State and Long Island shifted, he said, sending much of it out over the Atlantic Ocean.
Still, days of smoke that blanketed the region took a toll. State health officials said they saw an uptick in respiratory health problems.
There were 147 asthma related Emergency Department visits to New York hospitals, not including New York City, on Wednesday, according to the state Department of Health’s Electronic Syndromic Surveillance System. That compared to an average of 80 for the five-day period June 1-6.
The state Department of Health reported a 17.8% statewide increase of reported “respiratory symptoms” in the rates per 100,000 on Wednesday compared to the average for the five-day period June 1-5. The increase was 28.4% for the New York City region and 12.4% for the Capital Region.
The figures were based on Emergency Medical Services data.
The acting state health commissioner, Dr. James McDonald, said: "While conditions are improving overall across the state, we continue to remind people, especially those vulnerable to health impacts from unhealthy air quality, to self-monitor for symptoms and to stay inside if the air quality in their area is deemed unhealthy.”
He added that “vulnerable individuals such as those with heart conditions or lung disease, as well as the very young, those over 65 years old, and pregnant people, should reduce exposure and minimize exertion when outdoors. If vulnerable individuals must go outdoors during poor air quality conditions, they are encouraged to use a high-quality, well-fitting mask."
Gov. Kathy Hochul said that initially Long Island, New York City and other areas had air quality on Friday deemed “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” though the situation improved.
But she warned against complacency.
"As conditions gradually improve and it becomes safer to be outdoors in many regions of the state, it's critical that New Yorkers continue to stay informed and take common-sense safety precautions to protect themselves and their families," she said in a statement.
A state-issued air quality health advisory — warning of dangerous fine particulates in the air — was in effect until midnight Friday.
"When pollution levels are elevated, the New York State Department of Health recommends that individuals consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activity to reduce the risk of adverse health effects. People who may be especially sensitive to the effects of elevated levels of pollutants include the very young and those with preexisting respiratory problems such as asthma or heart disease," the advisory says.
The air quality level Friday was a marked improvement over the 400 air quality index, or AQI, registered in some parts of the region, including New York City, earlier in the week. That's the highest ever recorded since data began being collected decades ago. An AQI of 0-50 is considered “good.”
On Long Island, school districts reopened Friday, such as Freeport and Long Beach, but some limited activities and moving them inside.
Hochul has said the Belmont Stakes – the third and final leg of horseracing’s famed Triple Crown – could be cancelled on Saturday if air quality is poor. The decision will be made at the last minute, she said, though racing resumed on Friday.
With Matthew Chayes