Smoke from wildfires in Canada brought record-breaking air pollution to the US this spring, creating hazardous air quality from Bismarck, ND, to Denver and Detroit to New York City.

According to a Washington Post analysis of smoke data through June 6 from Stanford University, 160 air quality monitoring stations reported the high level of pollution from wildfires. Il Post will continue to update this page as data becomes available.

Map showing air pollution monitoring stations in the United States that have recorded record levels of fine particulate matter from smoke.

Fires can occur year-round, but most large fires burn between June and October. For this time of year, what’s perhaps unusual is the size of the fires and the distance the smoke travels, said Brett Palm, an atmospheric chemistry scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado. as dense as it was that far, it must be a big fire.

Across North America, wildfires are burning more land at greater intensity, a phenomenon experts attribute to climate change. Studies show a clear correlation between the number of acres burned by wildfires and higher temperatures. May heatwaves in Alberta dried up vegetation, creating conditions that make major fires more likely.

How bad was the smoke from the fires where you live?

New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY/NJ/Pa.

To isolate the impact of smoking on air quality from other pollutants, researchers at Stanford University’s Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab analyzed air quality measurements from environmental protection agencies more than 2,400 air monitoring stations. If a station recorded high levels of air pollution and satellite imagery showed plumes of smoke near a sensor during the same period, the researchers attributed the anomaly smoke pollution.

The impact of fumes on air quality depends on the amount of smoke produced by a fire, which affects the density and size of the plumes. The bigger the smoke plume, the farther the smoke can travel. In May, the wind blew in the smoke from the fires Western and central provinces of Canada southeast and along the Rocky Mountains.

Two thousand miles from the fires in Alberta, the residents of Denver experienced more than a week of hazy skies and air pollution warnings. The thick smoke traveled downwind and spiked in small particulate matter until a front passed through and brought in clean air from the mountains, Palm said. You could see it in Boulder, the smoke was blown out of the area and the air was clean.

Small airborne particles, or PM2.5, are particles small enough to travel past the barriers in the nose and enter the respiratory system and bloodstream. The particles can cause inflammation in the lungs, exacerbate symptoms for people with breathing problems or dislodge plaque in the arteries, increasing the risk of stroke.

In Bismarck, the daily average of PM2.5 rose to over 200 micrograms per cubic meter, the highest daily average on record. When small particulate matter levels are this high, otherwise healthy people with no underlying conditions can start experiencing more serious health impacts, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The smoke in Bismarck it was so dense it reduced visibility to a quarter of a mile.

It came over the building as a white, smoky cloud and flooded us for a day and a half, said Ryan Mills, ambient air monitoring manager for the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality. I’ve lived here all my life and I’ve never seen it so bad, so often.

A low-pressure system carried the smoke to the ground and condensed it, Mills said, creating high concentrations of PM2.5.

In May, cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and DC experienced lower levels of air pollution for a longer period of time.

Neelima Tummala, assistant professor of surgery at GW Medical Faculty Associates and co-director of the Climate Institute at George Washington University, said the early season smoke along the East Coast took her by surprise.

It wasn’t on people’s minds, Tummala said. Right now, I’m thinking about how I think about heat, getting my patients ready for July and August, and all of a sudden I started seeing these things about smoke from wildfires.

Sometimes, smoke makes the air seem foggy, but air pollution is invisible to the naked eye, Tummala said. People don’t think, oh, this is a day when the air quality is poor, I need to be more aware, maybe make sure I travel with my asthma inhaler.

Marshall Burke, deputy director of the Stanfords Doerr School of Public Health which studies smoke pollution, said there is no safe level of small particulate or smoke exposure from wildfires.

We see impacts starting from virtually zero, Burke said. The general story is that more is bad.

Smoke-filled air is especially dangerous for people with underlying respiratory conditions, and some studies suggest that fine particulate matter from wildfires is more harmful than air pollution from other sources. Rising smoke levels from wildfires in recent years are slowing or reversing the progress of clean air in states across the country, according to Stanford research.

When the air quality is poor, Tummala recommends wearing an N95 mask outside and limiting smoke exposure for pets. And while it’s important to limit exposure to smoke, do I also want people to be outdoors exercising and doing things that are good for their mental and physical health? Yes, he said she. The most important thing it’s for people to listen to their bodies, because everyone has slightly different responses to environmental irritants.

About this story

Sources: PM2.5 smoke matter data is from the Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab at Stanford University. Data includes estimates for smoking-specific PM2.5 from 2006 to present.

The fine particle pollution data for the smoke plume animation comes from the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) model via the NASA Global Modeling and Assimilation Office (GMAO). The data for June 7 is a forecast.

Editing by Monica Ulmanu. Copyediting by Rebecca Branford.

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