Air quality on parts of Long Island were deemed at "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels on Wednesday, according to the national monitoring site AirNow.gov. The conditions were caused by smoke from Canadian wildfires. Credit: Newsday Studio

This story was reported by John Asbury, Robert Brodsky, Matthew Chayes, Lisa L. Colangelo, and Lorena Mongelli. It was written by Colangelo.

A thick haze of smoke from Canadian wildfires settled over Long Island on Wednesday, delaying flights, canceling outdoor events and casting an ugly — and unhealthy — burnt-orange pall over the region.

Air quality on parts of Long Island and New York City were deemed at "very unhealthy" and "hazardous" levels, according to the national monitoring site AirNow.gov. Poor air quality was forecast for Thursday and Friday as fires continue to burn in Canada.

State health officials urged New Yorkers to avoid outdoor activities and told them to wear masks if they need to venture outside. The smoky air and the particulates carried in it can be especially dangerous for those with lung conditions, including asthma.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Air quality on parts of Long Island and in New York City was deemed “hazardous” on Wednesday due to the smoke from wildfires in Canada.
  • The smoky haze caused flight delays at area airports and the cancellation of outdoor sports and activities.
  • New Yorkers, especially those with asthma and other health conditions, were encouraged to stay inside if possible and wear masks if they have to spend time outdoors.

The haze darkened skies throughout the region, obscuring the Robert Moses Causeway bridge and New York City skyline. It coated the landscape with an eerie hue and left an acrid taste in people's mouths. With visibility down, traffic slowed across busy highways and hundreds of flights were delayed at local airports.

It was a hazy start to the day on Wednesday,...

It was a hazy start to the day on Wednesday, as seen from the Smith Point Bridge in Mastic Beach. Credit: /Tom Lambui

School districts across Long Island and in the five boroughs, meanwhile, canceled outdoor activities, including recess and field days, to keep kids out of the caustic air. The Town of Oyster Bay suspended all sanitation and recycling pickup for Thursday due to air quality. 

The Yankees announced their Wednesday night game against the White Sox would be rescheduled as a doubleheader for Thursday.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday called it a "crisis."

"It is also a dangerous situation … I would say over the last 48 hours, it has gotten significantly worse," she said Wednesday.

 

Health officials: Wear a mask outside

Air quality index numbers came close to hitting the maximum number of 500 in parts of New York City — numbers officials said had not been seen since the 1960s. Mayor Eric Adams encouraged all city residents to stay home Wednesday night and Thursday if possible.

Acting New York State Health Commissioner James McDonald said anyone who goes outside should wear a mask, such as a KN95 or N95.

"When you're exposed to the pollution for long term, it can make you more likely to have a lung infection, pneumonia or bronchitis," McDonald said.

People walking in the smoky air in Central Islip on...

People walking in the smoky air in Central Islip on Wednesday. Credit: James Carbone

People with health conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease are at higher risk of having respiratory problems when air quality is so poor. Women who are pregnant, young children and the elderly are also vulnerable, he said.

Hochul announced Wednesday night that the state would distribute 1 million N95 masks in the coming days. That includes 400,000 masks that will be available at state parks, MTA stations, the Port Authority Bus Terminal and the Javits Center.

Another 600,000 masks will be made available to local counties, cities and villages, Hochul said during a news conference in Albany.

“We believe that the N95 mask is an important way that people can stop the air particles from getting into their lungs,” Hochul said.

The governor also announced that she has offered a contingent of state fire rangers to be deployed to Canada to help put out the nearly 300 wildfires raging throughout the country. Hochul said she is waiting to hear back from Canadian Consul General Tom Clark.

Depending on where you live on Long Island, the U.S. AIr Quality rating for Wednesday ranged from “Unhealthy” (shaded red) to "Very Unhealthy" (shaded purple) to the more "Hazardous" (shaded maroon), according to an interactive map on AirNow.gov Credit: AIrNow.gov

The DEC extended into Thursday an alert for Long Island and most of the state, cautioning about the air quality and fine-particulate pollutants.

Planes delayed, grounded

The poor air quality, which lowered visibility across the region, paused flights bound for LaGuardia and slowed flights at Newark airport, according to the FAA. Dozens of flights were delayed and canceled at the region's airports.

The hazy and poor air quality kept Suffolk County police helicopters Wednesday from taking to the sky to aid patients or search for suspects.

Smoke and haze moves in and covers Old Country Road...

Smoke and haze moves in and covers Old Country Road and Glen Cove Road on Wednesday in Carle Place. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Michael Canders, director of the Aviation Center at Farmingdale State College of the State University of New York, said the professional pilot program at the college stopped flight training Wednesday afternoon due to poor visibility.

“The reduction in visibility is a potential hazard so we elected to stop flying today,” he said. “We’re all kind of amazed that it’s come from so far away.”

In addition, the Port Authority reduced speeds at three bridges — the Bayonne, Goethals and Outerbridge Crossing — to 30 mph due to poor visibility.

No immediate relief

State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said the weather forecast does not show any immediate relief from the smoke and haze.

"We are looking at the weather patterns — unfortunately the wind doesn't appear to be shifting in a favorable direction over the next day or two," Seggos said during a Wednesday news briefing. "It looks to again come from the north, which is exactly where the fires are, and will continue to bring that smoke right off the fires directly south into New York."

Health officials said there could be an uptick in emergency room visits and hospital admissions due to people having reactions to the smoky air.

Northwell Health said in a statement it has anecdotal reports of a mild increase in asthma and wheezing cases but no significant increase in overall volume at emergency departments or in cases with respiratory illnesses.

Its GoHealth urgent care centers in the region saw a slight increase in sore throats and eye-related complaints.

“Kids with asthma, chronic lung disease or immunodeficiencies are definitely at higher risk than others,” said Dr. Robyn Kreiner, a pediatrician specializing in allergy, asthma, and immunology who works in Commack.

“However there are many people that I've seen recently that are expressing symptoms even without underlying conditions … these fine particles can cause symptoms in anybody.”

She urged people to decrease smoking cigarettes, using wood burning stoves and aerosol products because they can increase the particulate matter.

Poor and unhealthy air quality could linger over Long Island at least heading into the weekend and could even return next week, according to the National Weather Service. 

“It looks like the air quality will remain pretty bad overnight,” meteorologist Bryan Ramsey said Wednesday. “It is likely that it will stick with us the next two days, but maybe not to the same degree. It will still be unhealthy.” 

Long Island may see some improvement later in the week, but the low-pressure system and winds are still blowing smoke downstate from the Canadian wildfires.

He said after the weekend, the smoke could return if the winds shift back downstate funneling the smoke toward Long Island.  

“What happens after that depends on if the fires are still ranging, which could go on for weeks,” Ramsey said. “After the weekend, it could come back to haunt us if the fires are still burning.” 

The air tracking company IQAir issued the dubious distinction of worst air quality for the New York area.

It's worse than last week, when smoke plumes from the wildfires blazing hundreds of miles away in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and other areas began making their way down to northern U.S. states.

Officials said they expect the health advisory to stay in place for the next few days.

The smoke darkening the skies comes as thousands have had to leave their homes in Canada, where fires have destroyed more than 25,000 acres  so far — making this that region’s worst-ever wildfire season.

Wildfires have been raging in Canada over the last few weeks. Canadian officials said currently more than 100 fires in Quebec are out of control as they asked the international community to send reinforcements to help battle the blazes.

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