Jun. 8, 2023 By Christian Murray, Dean Moses, Sarah Belle Lin, Ethan Stark-Miller and Robert Pozarycki
New Yorkers woke up Thursday morning to the ominous haze that has lingered over The Big Apple since Monday — the air still filled with unhealthy smoke from the Canadian wildfires.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a statement Wednesday forecasting that air quality in New York City will be at “Unhealthy” levels through 11:59 p.m. Thursday. The mayor’s office said that it expects the polluted air conditions to be a “multiple day event.”
At one point on Wednesday afternoon, 3 p.m. to be exact, the city registered a “Hazardous” air quality index of over 300, according to IQAir. As of 8:09 a.m. June 8, IQAir reported an “Unhealthy” air quality index in the Big Apple of 184.
Officials are advising residents to stay indoors — particularly those with respiratory conditions — as air quality levels have reached “hazardous” levels. Those most vulnerable to the smoke are advised to wear a high-quality N95 or KN95 mask to reduce exposure if they venture outside.
New York City schools had a scheduled day off for students Thursday, though teachers had to report remotely for professional development. Meanwhile, there were flight disruptions at the local airports.
All over town and on social media, New Yorkers remain stunned by what they saw in the skies above them the past few days. The smoke led to some post-apocalyptic scenes that appear straight out of a movie.
Manhattan high rises were hidden through the dark haze. An eerie orange glow — the result of sunlight being refracted and scattered millions of times over in the haze — cast itself across the landscape during the afternoon hours Wednesday.
Meanwhile, outdoor events, such as the Yankees scheduled matchup with the Chicago White Sox in the Bronx Wednesday night, were cancelled due to the danger in the air. They’re scheduled to play a doubleheader Thursday.
The smoke is coming from more than 150 wildfires in the forests of Quebec and Ontario, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center, charring millions of acres and sending people in the fire zone fleeing for their lives. The wildfire season in Canada has gotten off to an intense start due to warm and dry conditions. Canada is on track for its worst-ever wildfire season on record, which indicates more smoke could come New York’s way.
New York City temporarily topped the list Wednesday for the city with the worst air pollution across the globe, according to IQAir. It had also topped the list Tuesday night, ahead of cities such as Delhi, India, and Dubai, UAE.
The city’s air quality index — which the federal Environmental Protection Agency uses to measure levels of air pollutants in parts per million — hit 342 Wednesday afternoon, a score considered “hazardous.” The air quality index in New York is normally around 50, with officials saying that the Big Apple is experiencing the worst air pollution since the 1960s.
Mayor Eric Adams, during a press briefing Wednesday, said the smoke situation will likely deteriorate in the next 24 hours.
“All New Yorkers should limit outdoor activity to the greatest extent possible,” Adams said. “This is not the day to train for a marathon or to do an outside event with your children.”
Many New Yorkers appeared to be taking the mayor’s advice. One straphanger, for instance, on the 7 train was taking precautions.
“We have to do what the mayor says and take care of ourselves and wear a mask. It was bad yesterday, but it is worse today,” Douglas, who declined to provide his last name, said as he looked out of the 7 train in Queens. “I am not going to lie, my first thought was zombie apocalypse.”
Still, life went on around the Big Apple, though everyone was feeling the smoke’s effects.
“At least it isn’t 90 degrees,” 20-year-old Kevin said because he said that air quality would be even worse. He works for a grocery delivery service and said his company didn’t issue any advice on handling the situation.
“I was like, I looked at my phone, and in this area alone, the air quality is like 316.” Kevin said. He wears a mask to protect himself, and he suggested, “If it gets any worse, I feel like they should like shut it down for at least a little bit.”
Mike, who works with Uber Eats, said he wears a mask and glasses while riding his bike. He also shared that he took regular breaks and drank plenty of water. All in all, he didn’t seem to be all too concerned.
“This is nature taking its course you know. I mean that’s how I look at it,” he said.
Adams described the smoke as an “unprecedented event in our city and New Yorkers must take precaution.”
The NYS Department of Labor issued a statement Wednesday encouraging employers in regions with Air Quality Health Advisories in effect to limit outdoor work and activities that require exertion.
Keeping the students inside
Schools Chancellor David Banks, who was at the mayor’s briefing, said that the Department of Education has yet to determine its plan in coming days, with much being dependent on the forecast.
“We have directed all schools to keep students inside,” Banks said at the briefing. “We will be in further touch with our schools for tomorrow and the succeeding days. As we follow the direction of the public health (department) and the mayor’s office, we will keep our parents and our families informed.”
Dr. Ashwin Vasan, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, was also at the briefing and advised New Yorkers—particularly children– to stay inside.
“Children may also be more susceptible due to poor air quality because their lungs are still developing,” Vasan said. “Our health guidance to all New Yorkers is to limit outdoor activity as much as possible.”
New York City public school students are off Thursday and elementary and middle school students are off Friday, with the days set aside for staff development. However, Brooklyn Council Member Rita Joseph is calling for the public school teachers to be permitted to work remotely Thursday and possibly Friday. “NYC Schools should continue to assess conditions and guidance for Friday, but staff should be given clarity now in preparation for tomorrow.”
Many outdoor events across the city have been canceled, including rallies.
The New York Taxi Workers Alliance, which had planned a rally outside Governor Kathy Hochul’s Midtown office Wednesday, canceled the event due to the smoke. The alliance’s rally, which is against a proposed congestion pricing charge, will be held later this month.
The Environmental Protection Agency recommends New Yorkers keep their windows closed and run an air purifier if they have one.
Furthermore, the agency advises residents not to add to the pollution levels, by lighting candles, driving a vehicle (if it can be avoided) or using aerosol sprays.
To that end, Mayor Adams announced that alternate-side parking rules would be suspended on Thursday, June 8, to help allow drivers to leave their cars at home. Motorists, however, will still be required to feed the meters.
The city is advising New Yorkers who are suffering a medical emergency due to the smoke to call 911. For further information about the air quality situation, contact the city at 800-535-1345.
New Yorkers are able to check the air quality in their zip code at airnow.gov.