How to protect your health as wildfire smoke engulfs the city (2023)

New Yorkers again woke up to a smoke-filled city as pollutants from Canadian wildfires blanket the five boroughs with an eerie haze.

New York City continues to claim the worst air quality of any city in the world. By Wednesday afternoon, conditions had reached 484 on the Air Quality Index, Mayor Eric Adams said—a level considered “hazardous” for everyone by the Environmental Protection Agency, and the city's highest level recorded since the EPA began using the measurement in the 1960s.

That led New Yorkers to scrap outdoor plans, rummage for face masks and stand on street corners shooting photos showing of the cloaked skyline.

Meanwhile, air travel was paused at LaGuardia, the New York Yankees postponed their game, and the Wildlife Conservation Society shuttered its zoos to protect staff and animals.

Here are the answers to some key questions.

Can I call out of work if I’m at risk?

Yes. Adams pointed out that workers are entitled under New York’s Paid Safe and Sick Leave Law to stay home to care for themselves or others. Non-essential city employees were allowed to work from home Thursday due to the smoke.

Workers—or employers—can call 311 for more information about what the law entails.

Are New York City schools open?

Public schools remained open Wednesday. They were already set already set to be closed Thursday as teachers and school staff attend professional development training. The city shifted that training to be entirely remote due to the smoke, and Schools Chancellor David Banks left open the possibility that school could be canceled Friday.

Is it safe for dogs to go outside?

Many New Yorkers with pets have been left wondering how to protect their dogs and cats from the unhealthy air. Ashwin Vasan, the city’s Health Commissioner, said yesterday that dog owners should keep their walks as short as possible, while all other animals should stay indoors. “This is a hazard for all living creatures,” Vasan said.

When will the smoke clear in New York City?

Likely not before Friday, said John Homenuk, a meteorologist who runs the popular New York Metro Weather Twitter account. By Thursday at 5 a.m., Homenuksaid on Twitterhe expects the smoke to ease slightly today but to continue clogging the skies, with isolated showers in the forecast. As he put it: “The vibes are not ideal.”

The air quality advisory issued by the state on Tuesday has been extended through at least Thursday. Zach Iscol, the city’s Emergency Management commissioner, said earlier today that it would likely remain in place for several days.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said that the state will make one million N95 masks available to New Yorkers starting Thursday morning. Some 400,000 of the masks will be distributed at stations across the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s networks, at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and the Javits Center. In the subway, New Yorkers can snag an N95 mask at Grand Central, Fulton Street, Penn Station and at Jamaica Center. Another 600,000 masks will be available for local governments to pick up from the state, as well as at fire stations.

What are the health risks of poor air quality?

Even short-term exposure to high levels of pollution can cause health complications, such as coughing, sneezing, runny nose, irritation to the eyes, nose and throat, as well as shortness of breath, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s health advisory.

That being said, for healthy New Yorkers the current air pollution levels are more of an annoyance than a risk, said Dr. Darby Jack, associate professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia University Medical Center.

“It’s an annoyance and something to pay attention to, and if it starts happening for weeks every year then maybe the story changes,” Jack said.

New Yorkers can protect their health by staying indoors, and can take additional measures to preserve indoor air quality by using a HEPA filter. Jack also said that people should limit their outdoor exercise, as heavy breathing increases how much fine particulate matter they inhale.

People who have existing medical conditions, including lung or heart diseases, are at risk of more serious health impacts from breathing in fine particulate matter. Prolonged exposure to high levels of poor air quality puts people with chronic illness at risk of complications such as asthma flare-ups or heart attacks, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Individuals with chronic illnesses should wear a well-fitting mask and take a couple of days off from exercising both indoors and outdoors until the air clears, Jack said.

At a press conference Wednesday, city Health Commissioner Dr. Ashwin Vasan said there has not yet been a notable uptick in hospital admissions due to air quality complications. He added the situation can change and the city is closely monitoring data from area facilities.

How can I protect myself from the smoke?

Mayor Eric Adams said all New Yorkers should limit their outdoor activity and stay inside as much as possible, citing guidance from the EPA.

Children and older adults should take extra care to stay indoors, and people with heart or breathing problems should wear a high-quality mask when outdoors—such as an N95 or KN95, Adams said.

“This is an unprecedented event in our city and New Yorkers must take caution,” Adams said in this morning’s news conference.

The EPA also suggests running an air conditioner and a purifier, if you have one. Keep windows closed and don’t add to the pollution by lighting candles or using aerosol sprays.

Those recommendations could change “based on updated air quality conditions that come in,” Adams said Tuesday evening.

The state also created a toll-free hotline that New Yorkers can call to stay informed about the smoke: 1-800-535-1345.

Does the poor air quality strengthen the case for climate measures like Local Law 97 and congestion pricing?

Without a doubt. Research has shown human-driven climate change has exacerbated the conditions that spark wildfires and allow them to burn more frequently and with greater intensity.

The smog that New York City and the region is experiencing this week is a taste of conditions to come if aggressive actions are not taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the rate of climate change.

Two key ways to do that is to target the city’s top emitters of greenhouse gas emissions: buildings and transportation. Local Law 97 aims to shrink the carbon footprints of the city’s largest buildings, while congestion pricing aims to reduce traffic and get people out of cars and onto mass transit.

Should New Yorkers be prepared for more smoke hazards in the future?

Probably. Anecdotally, Homenuk noted that the city appears to have suffered an increase of wildfire smoke events in recent years, and a warming climate will only drive more extreme weather events.

“I do think that these kinds of events are likely going to become more common moving forward, and something that we’ll have to learn to deal with,” he said.

Federal forecasts also indicate that these types of events are only going to become more common. Droughts are lasting longer, forest fires are burning hotter and peak temperatures are rising.

Last summer alone the city experienced 25 days at or above 90 degrees—more than during any summer over the last six years. New Yorkers should be prepared that these conditions are not going away any time soon and should plan accordingly.

What else have New York public officials said about the wildfire smoke?

Adams said little until 11:31 p.m. Tuesday, which did not go unnoticed. The mayor defended his response during this morning's news conference, saying there is “no blueprint or playbook for these type of issues.”

Lincoln Restler, a progressive City Council member from Brooklyn, took the mayor to task on Twitter for not taking more immediate action, saying this morning's “hastily arranged press conference” was not enough.

Restler called on the city to dispatch air purifiers to schools, libraries and public housing developmenets; instruct people to work from home; and limit outdoor work for city employees.

“It's the government's job to lead in a crisis; the public should not be asked to come up with their own solutions,” Restler wrote.

At least one segment of the city's workforce is taking it easy today: the city's Health Department is suspending work for carriage horses and all other "working horses," an agency spokesperson confirmed.

“The Health Department is monitoring the situation and will notify the carriage horse industry on when work can continue,” said Pedro Frisneda, a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene spokesperson.

Basil Seggos, head of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, first issued the Air Quality Health advisory on Tuesday and has been posting regular updates on Twitter.

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that the situation shows “how unprepared we are for the climate crisis,” repeating her call for a “Green New Deal.”

Other city leaders were out of town when the skies first turned hazy—City Council Speaker Adrienne Adams and her leadership team were in Washington D.C. on Tuesday, meeting with federal officials with federal officials to request aid for asylum-seekers and investments in housing, among other issues.

This story will be updated over the course of the day.


How to protect your health as wildfire smoke engulfs the city? ›

MORE: Wildfire smoke map: Which US cities, states are being impacted by Canadian wildfires. Those spending extensive time outdoors in smoky air or an ash-covered area should use a tight-fitting N95 or P100 mask to reduce exposure. Make sure the mask fits over your nose, under your chin and seals tightly to your face.

How do you stay healthy in wildfire smoke? ›

Stay Indoors and Keep Indoor Air Clean

The best way to prevent breathing harmful particles in wildfire smoke is to stay indoors. When air quality reaches dangerous levels due to wildfire smoke, the most effective way to reduce exposure and avoid the ill effects of smoke is to stay indoors with windows and doors closed.

How can you protect yourself from wildfire smoke indoors? ›

If local officials advise you to stay indoors, take these actions in your home to reduce your smoke exposure:
  1. Keep windows and doors closed.
  2. Use fans and air conditioning to stay cool. ...
  3. Reduce the smoke that enters your home. ...
  4. Use a portable air cleaner or high-efficiency filter to remove fine particles from the air.

How can you protect yourself from bad air? ›

What can you do to stay safe from poor air quality?
  1. Reduce the time you spend outdoors to under 30 minutes when AQI is high. Also, reduce the intensity of outdoor activity. ...
  2. If you must go outdoors, consider wearing a mask. ...
  3. Keep your air indoors healthy by keeping the windows and doors closed.
Jun 29, 2023

How do you clean your lungs after fire smoke? ›

Here are several tips to help you prevent or detox from smoke injury and protect your lungs from long-term damage after wildfire smoke inhalation:
  1. Water. ...
  2. Use a Saline Nasal Spray. ...
  3. Rinse Sinus with a Neti Pot. ...
  4. Breathe Steam-- with Thyme. ...
  5. Increase your consumption of antioxidants.
Sep 16, 2020

How do you purify air from fire smoke? ›

We recommend running an air purifier on high for an hour the first time you turn the machine on. That'll clear the air quickly by passing the entire volume of air in the room through the filter four to six times. Thereafter, keeping the machine on low or automatic will keep the air clear. Just run it continuously.

Does wearing a mask help with bad air quality? ›

Does wearing a mask help with bad air quality? If you need to be outside, experts advise wearing a mask. N95 masks are the best option to reduce your exposure to pollutants, according to Lahita, but if you don't have those, surgical masks or even a scarf is better than nothing.

Does air conditioning clean air of smoke? ›

Can Your AC Filter Smoky Air? Running the AC with smoke outside can help improve the air quality inside your home. You can keep the windows closed during hotter stretches of weather and keep everyone comfortable if smoky conditions keep you from going outside for extended periods.

Does air conditioning help with wildfire smoke? ›

Do not run your home ventilation (bath vents, kitchen vent, etc.) because it brings the outdoor air into your home. Run your air conditioner/heat pump if you have one. It's safe to use during wildfires and can help improve your home's indoor air quality.

How to make a home air purifier? ›

How to assemble this DIY room air purifier:
  1. Arrange the 4 Filtrete™ Air Filters in a square.
  2. Secure the Filtrete™ Air Filters together with Scotch® Duct Tape as you create the square. ...
  3. Place the fan on top of the filter square. ...
  4. Secure the fan to the filter box with Scotch® Duct Tape on all sides.

At what air quality should you stay inside? ›

³ Watch for signs that air pollution is affecting you, such as coughing and shortness of breath. Asthma sufferers should keep quick-relief medication handy. On days when the AQI is more than 300, everyone should avoid outdoor physical activity and remain indoors.

Do window air conditioners filter wildfire smoke? ›

Because window units may directly pull air from outside your home, they could introduce wildfire smoke into your spaces with very little filtering capability compared to centralized AC systems.

How can I make the air around me healthier? ›

Improving air quality
  1. Keep it clean. A clean house may be a healthier house, because good indoor hygiene can greatly cut down on dust and animal dander, says Dr. ...
  2. Keep the greenery outdoors. ...
  3. Change your filters. ...
  4. Invest in an air purifier. ...
  5. Let the fresh air in.
Feb 15, 2021

Does rain help with wildfire smoke? ›

For areas that are lucky enough to receive a heavy shower, air quality will improve slightly within that local area. Because the aerial coverage of smoke and haze extends over a thousand miles, the improvement would be short-lived.

How do I make the air around me safe for everybody? ›

10 Easy Steps for Cleaner Air
  1. Walk, bike, carpool, or take public transit.
  2. Reduce heating needs by making your house more energy efficient. ...
  3. Say no to wood fire burning.
  4. Use hand-powered or battery-operated garden tools. ...
  5. Know before you go. ...
  6. Check your tire pressure. ...
  7. Reduce, reuse, and recycle!
  8. Be idle-free.

What happens if you breathe in wildfire smoke? ›

Fine particles from smoke (fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5) can travel deeply into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs. Inhaling fine particles can cause a variety of health effects, like respiratory irritation and shortness of breath. It can also worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

How long does it take for wildfire smoke to heal lungs? ›

Mild symptoms should subside within 24 to 48 hours after smoke exposure ends. If your symptoms do not improve, check in with your primary care provider. If you have severe symptoms, especially if you have an existing lung condition, Dr. Ronaghi suggests seeking medical care immediately in an acute or emergency setting.

What are the benefits of wildfire smoke? ›

Wildfire Smoke and the Impact on Plants

They can actually benefit plant life by burning up excess debris on the ground to allow new growth to emerge.


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