Air quality remains dangerous in Philadelphia

climate wildfire
People in Camden, N.J., view the hazy Philadelphia skyline, Wednesday, June 7, 2023.
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Smoky air settled into Philadelphia for a second consecutive day Wednesday, prompting health officials to issue a “code red” alert for poor air quality.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration advised organizers to postpone outdoor events and encouraged residents to wear high-quality COVID-19 masks if they had to leave their home.

And the haze is expected to remain in the city Thursday and possibly into the weekend, blown in from wildfires raging in the Canadian province of Quebec.

“It’s unlikely that we’re going to get rid of it completely until we see more of a substantial change in the prevailing winds,” said Alex Dodd, a meteorologist at National Weather Service’s regional office in Mount Holly, New Jersey.

Winds are not forecasted to shift until the later part of the weekend, Dodd told Metro, though air quality may improve Friday based on conditions in Quebec. When the fires are more active, more smoke is released into the air, he said.

Only two-tenths of inch of rain have fallen this month in Philadelphia, following the city’s driest May on record. Dodd said some moisture is expected Monday.

“The rain on Monday should take care of whatever is left over,” he added.

Later Wednesday afternoon, air quality levels in parts of the city dipped in the purple range – more severe than a code red. In the purple range, the Environmental Protection Agency recommends that older adults, children, pregnant women, people who work outside and those with heart and lung diseases remain indoors at all times.

Masons work during hazy conditions in Philadelphia, Wednesday, June 7, 2023.AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Of concern is particulate matter, or PM 2.5, that is 30 times smaller than a single strand of hair and can enter the lungs and stay there.

“Wildfire smoke does pose a very serious health hazard to people,” said Deborah Brown, chief mission officer for the American Lung Association. “Anyone at this point, even healthy individuals are at risk.”

Brown said anyone who experiences shortness of breath, wheezing or a feeling that their chest is heavy should contact their health provider. Health officials also said to monitor for dizziness and nausea.

People on oxygen should not adjust their levels before talking to their doctor, Brown added. Those with questions about air quality and health can call the ALA’s 1-800-LUNGUSA hotline, which is staffed by nurses and respiratory therapists.

Particulate matter has been linked with premature death in people with heart and lung disease, heart attacks, aggravated asthma, trouble breathing and other medical issues, according to the EPA.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health on Wednesday strongly encouraged residents to limit their time outside and close the windows and doors of their home. Officials suggested using fans to keep air circulating.

In addition, people were asked to not to use gas-powered lawn mowers and to carpool when possible. State officials advised pet owners to keep animals inside.

School District of Philadelphia leaders canceled outdoor field trips and told principals to move recess inside. A planned Night Market event in Point Breeze was also canceled, and the Phillies postponed their game against the Detroit Tigers, rescheduling for Thursday evening.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a code red for the entire state, with poorer air quality anticipated in the eastern section of the commonwealth.