Smoke from wildfires currently raging in Canada has triggered air quality alerts across parts of the U.S. Midwest and Canada itself, with some regions reporting some of the world’s worst air quality readings on Tuesday.
The wildfire smoke, emanating from Quebec, Canada, has contributed to exceptionally poor air quality in cities such as Chicago, Milwaukee, and Detroit, making them some of the most polluted globally on Tuesday. These fires have been affecting parts of the U.S. since the beginning of the month, causing all three cities to reach the “very unhealthy” or purple zone on the air quality index (AQI).
At one point on Tuesday, Chicago registered an air quality level of 228, veering into the purple zone, while nearby Milwaukee posted a level of 221, according to AirNow, a government site that monitors air quality.
The current air quality maps for the U.S. indicate that Illinois, Wisconsin, and parts of neighboring states like Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, and Michigan are in the red or “unhealthy” zone. Residents may potentially experience health effects, warns AirNow.
While the U.S. East Coast, which previously experienced hazardous air quality from the Canadian wildfires, now seems mostly clear, some areas fall into the yellow or “moderate” zone. This suggests that air quality is acceptable but could present risks for certain individuals.
The smoke continues to waft southward across North America in waves, following a blanket coverage over the east coast earlier this month.
The Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre has declared this year’s wildfire season as the worst on record in Canada.
Health officials advised vulnerable groups, including children, the elderly, and those with respiratory conditions, to restrict outdoor activities during times of poor air quality.
Chicago school authorities announced that summer programs would be held indoors on Tuesday.
Canadian fire officials report that out of nearly 3,000 fires recorded this season, approximately 500 are still active. So far, around 7.7 million hectares (30,000 square miles) – an area roughly equivalent to South Carolina – has been engulfed by the flames.
The fires have released a record 160 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere, as per the European Union’s Copernicus Atmospheric Monitoring Service.
The smoke is expected to continue drifting south and east over the forthcoming days.