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

This story was reported by John AsburyLisa L. Colangelo, Bart Jones, Lorena Mongelli, Ted Phillips, Jean-Paul Salamanca, Joe Werkmeister and John Valenti. It was written by Jones.

Smoke blanketing Long Island eased slightly on Thursday and is forecast to improve again Friday, but air quality remained at "unhealthy levels" canceling activities and irritating throats for a second day.

Dozens of flights bound for LaGuardia Airport were delayed on Thursday, two Long Island universities shut down, and state officials halted all racing, training and workouts for racehorses.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said it was possible the Belmont Stakes — the third and final leg of horse racing's famed Triple Crown — will not be run on Saturday if air quality remains poor from unhealthy haze and smoke billowing down from out-of-control wildfires in Canada.

She called the wildfire smoke “an extraordinary event,” at a news conference. “It's unprecedented in terms of the source of the air contaminants that we're experiencing right now.”


  • Smoke blanketing Long Island eased slightly on Thursday, and officials were hoping for more improvement Friday.
  • Air quality remained at “unhealthy” levels, forcing cancellations of classes at two Long Island universities, delays of flights at LaGuardia airport, and a shutdown of racehorse training.
  • The Belmont Stakes on Saturday could be cancelled, depending on the air quality level, Gov. Kathy Hochul said.

She added: “There still remains poor air quality across the state of New York … Every place is unhealthy except for the Adirondacks.”

These maps on the EPA's site for June 7 and June 8 showed large swaths in the “very unhealthy” zone across Suffolk and Nassau counties. A portion of western Nassau County joined New York City at the “hazardous” level during the afternoon of June 7.

On Long Island, air quality levels fluctuated throughout Thursday, ranging from "unhealthy for sensitive groups" to "unhealthy" for everyone. Officials were holding out hope that Friday would be better, with possible light, variable winds and rain helping to clear the air.

Still, schools canceled Friday outdoor events and moved school recess inside.

A decision about the Belmont Stakes will be a last minute one based on Saturday’s air quality, Hochul said and would be cancelled if the air quality index exceeded 200 at the facility.

On Wednesday, the average air quality index on Long Island was 185, according to the DEC, in the “unhealthy range.” On Thursday, it had improved slightly and was listed at 160. On Friday it was forecast to be 120, which is designated as “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

The air quality index topped 200 for parts of the day in certain areas on Wednesday. An air quality index of 0-50 is considered "good."

While an air quality alert was extended through midnight Friday by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, the DEC predicted a gradual improvement of the air on Long Island.

“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 DEC said. "Those with symptoms should consider consulting their personal physician.”

The smoke could clear out of the region Saturday or Sunday as the low-pressure system dissipates and redirects the winds southwest, John Cristantello, a lead meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Upton, said. It’s unclear when the smoke may completely leave the area and will depend just as much as the behavior of the fires, he said.

School closures, no big uptick at ERs

On Thursday on Long Island, health officials urged people to stay inside, while schools canceled sports and other outdoor activities. Adelphi and Molloy universities suspended classes, joining at least two public school districts, Freeport and Long Beach.

Departures to LaGuardia were delayed an average of 54 minutes due to low visibility, the FAA said, adding that it would "take steps to manage the flow of traffic safely into New York City, DC, Philadelphia and Charlotte."

FlightAware, a flight tracking service, said there were 58 delays within, into, or out of the United States Thursday morning at LaGuardia, along with 47 at Kennedy Airport and 30 at Newark International Airport.

In parts of New York City, the air quality index numbers on Wednesday that came close to hitting the maximum number of 500 had not been seen since the 1960s, officials said.

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

Officials at hospital systems around Long Island said there were several cases, but no major uptick, in visits to hospital emergency rooms due to people sickened by exposure to the air.

"We're definitely seeing a couple of cases come into each of our emergency departments," said Dr. Christopher Raio, chief of emergency medicine at Catholic Health, which has six hospitals on Long Island. "A lot of these cases are people who work outside like landscapers, people who work for the electric company, pool workers who have had prolonged exposure.”

Northwell Health officials reported a “mild increase” in patients with respiratory illnesses at their emergency departments. The rise was more significant in its New York City facilities. Lenox Health Greenwich Village, a division of Lenox Hill Hospital in Manhattan, treated 26 people for asthma on Wednesday, which is more than double its usual number, officials said.

The smoky air could trigger asthma attacks and heart attacks in some vulnerable populations, health experts warned.

“If you have any underlying illnesses, particularly respiratory or cardiac related, you are at higher risk,” Raio said. "Those individuals definitely need to limit exposure.”

Dr. Norman Edelman, a pulmonologist and core member of the Program in Public Health at Stony Brook University, said it's vital to remember that people with coronary artery disease are at an increased risk of having their chest pain get worse or having a heart attack due to the poor air quality.

People without underlying conditions might also experience chest tightness and a cough after breathing in the acrid smoke. 

“They will have inflammation of their airways and that will go away as the pollution goes away and it will heal,” he said. But whether or not the exposure can lead to permanent damage is unknown.

400 Canadian fires

In wasn't just the New York region affected. Millions of people across the United States and Canada endured a third day of the thick, hazardous haze. In a Canadian fire season that is just getting started but could well become the worst on record, more than 400 blazes — over a third of them in Quebec — burned Thursday.

The smoke billowing from the fires sent plumes of fine particulate matter as far away as North Carolina and northern Europe.

Hochul said that a team of DEC Forest Rangers is deploying to assist with efforts to contain the wildfires raging in eastern Canada. The New York team will join firefighters from New Hampshire and Maine in Quebec.

At her news conference, Hochul said, "We look to see weather improving over a few days.” 

But, she added: “The message is, this is not over. You know we might get a little respite, but I don't want people to let down their guard and to become complacent about this because we have to be prepared for the winds to shift.”

Suspended trash pickup, open ice rinks

Across Long Island on Thursday, towns took steps to address the smoke crisis, from suspending trash pick-up to opening indoor ice skating rinks.

The Town of Oyster Bay opened two rinks to residents to “take a break at indoor, air-conditioned Town facilities,” said Town spokeswoman Marta Kane. The Oyster Bay ice skating center at 1001 Stewart Avenue in Bethpage and the Marjorie Post Park Skate House at 451 Unqua Road in Massapequa were open through 11 p.m. Thursday.

Glen Cove suspended trash and recycling pick up “to protect the health and well-being of our outdoor city workers,” Mayor Pamela Panzenbeck said. The suspension shifts pick-up so that Thursday’s will be done on Friday and regular Friday pick-ups will be moved to Saturday.

The city closed John Maccarone Stadium and Pascucci Field on Thursday, but all city departments remained open, Panzebeck said.

The Fire Island Lighthouse on Thursday during sunrise.

The Fire Island Lighthouse on Thursday during sunrise. Credit: Tom Lambui/Tom Lambui

In Smithtown, while the town has not ordered cancellations of events, officials were encouraging people to reschedule weekend events, said Nicole Garguilo, the town's public information officer. 

The first inaugural outdoor Summer Stroll event for Saturday on Lake Ave. in St. James, which was designed to promote shopping there, has been canceled, according to the town and organizers on Facebook.

The town's animal shelter sent out advisories for residents with pets, while the town's Senior Center was reaching out to its members to check on them.

East Hampton Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said the town canceled outdoor recreation programs Wednesday and Thursday. Department heads provided N95 masks to any employees who needed to do essential outdoor work.

The supervisor said they also advised department heads "to curtail any activities that weren't essential that were outdoors."

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