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Midwest Battling Poor Air Quality as Canadian Wildfires Engulf the Region; Health Concerns Rise

(Blace Carpenter/The Collegiate)

By Sophie Deiters and Kevin Lopez

Much of the Midwest is experiencing poor air quality as smoke from Canada’s raging wildfires blows over the region. According to the Air Quality Index, Grand Rapids has been considered “very unhealthy” as of 9 a.m. Tuesday and into today.

Stephanie Hengesbach, an Air Quality Meteorologist with the state of Michigan, explained how the smoke traveled to our state.

“As it was in New York and is now, it is due to the wildfires that are burning up in Ontario and Quebec,” said Hengesbach. “The reason why we have such high levels over our state now is the current weather pattern we are in… The wind flow is just conducive to bringing those plumes of the wildfire smoke right over the state of Michigan.”

Although the smog is currently blowing over from the Northeast, Hengesbach said that shifting winds may not help the situation much.

“We are having a pattern change where the winds are going to switch more to a southerly component. The only problem is there’s also smoke South of us,” she said. “We’re hoping that with the wind switching to the South.. that levels will fall and at least improve.” 

While Hengesbach hopes to see improvement, she’s not convinced that the smog will completely clear anytime soon.

“We would need just a strong weather system to potentially come through to push the current air mass we’re in out of the region,” she said. “I think we’re gonna have wildfire smoke whether or not it’s going to be affecting us at ground level, I don’t know. But I think it’s going to be around for quite a while cause there’s just so many fires burning.”

Brandon Hooks, a Pulmonologist with University of Michigan Health-West said that he’s seen an increase in reports of smog-related issues since the air quality dropped.

“We have noticed an increase of patients calling that have pre-existing respiratory issues,” he said. “An increase (in) issues such as labored breathing, runny noses, chest heaviness. Some checking themselves (into the hospital) and staying for an extended time.”

Due to these adverse health effects, Hooks suggested that people take the air quality into account when making their Fourth of July plans. 

“I would recommend people being outside to be very diligent to protect themselves because fireworks will make it worse. Limit your exposure to the fireworks, watch it from a vehicle. If you are outside, I’d wear a mask, specifically an N95 mask,” he said. 

“I know with this being summer, people want to be outside and it can be challenging with the air quality being poor, but I want people to understand and to be diligent. Limit your time outside and defer your activities to other days when our air quality becomes healthy again.”

For now, Michigan has extended its air quality alert through Thursday, however, no call has been made on whether outdoor activities including fireworks shows will be canceled.

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