WASHINGTON: Smoke from Canadian wildfires continued to shroud US cities in a noxious haze on Thursday, forcing flight delays and cancellations to outdoor activities as environmental groups called for urgent action to tackle climate change.
Residents in the capital Washington awoke to an acrid smell and orange-tinged skies, with the Environment Protection Agency rating parts of the mid-Atlantic region at “Code Maroon,” the highest category of the Air Quality Index, signalling hazardous conditions.
This made parts of the United States the most polluted in the world, worse than cities in South Asia and China that normally dominate global rankings, with the situation not expected to improve until the weekend.
“Today’s air quality is extremely unhealthy,” tweeted the city’s Department of Energy & Environment.
The blaze has affected two million acres in Canada
“Members of the general public may experience health effects & sensitive groups may experience more serious health issues.”
Commuters donned N-95 masks while the National Zoo announced it would close “for the safety of our animals, our staff and our guests.”
The Washington Nationals, the capital’s Major League Baseball team, announced it was postponing its afternoon game against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Public schools in the capital cancelled all outdoor activities including recess, physical education, athletic practices and competitions.
The Federal Aviation Administration meanwhile said low visibility had forced it to “manage the flow of traffic safely into New York City, DC, Philadelphia and Charlotte.”
Flights bound for New York’s La Guardia and to Philadelphia International resumed after a pause. Environmental groups were quick to draw attention to climate change, which is creating warmer, drier conditions that are increasing the risk and extent of wildfires.
“This is the climate crisis, here and now, causing dangerous air pollution and threatening the health of millions of people,” said May Boeve, Chief Executive of 350.org.
Her comments echoed UN chief Antonio Guterres, who tweeted: “With global temperatures on the rise, the need to urgently reduce wildfire risk is critical. “We must make peace with nature. We cannot give up.”
‘Reminded me of 9/11’
Skies were noticeably clearer in New York compared to the day before, even as the AQI index remained high. Officials handed out face coverings at train stations, bus depots and parks.
Linda Jiuliano, a 65-year-old secretary, gladly accepted one at Grand Central station in Midtown Manhattan.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said, describing the sepia-tinged smog that engulfed New York on Wednesday as “scary.”
“It reminded me a lot of 9/11, seeing the sky all smoky and everything,” said Jiuliano, who kept the windows closed and the air conditioner on at her home in Huntington, Long Island.
Meanwhile in Canada, pollution from wildfires is expected to peak in Toronto, Environment Canada said.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2023