More Health:

June 08, 2023

Philly had the poorest air quality levels in the world overnight, but the 'worst is behind us,' meteorologist says

Smokey skies caused by the Canadian wildfires landed the city in Code Maroon territory Wednesday night and early Thursday morning; conditions have since improved

Health News Pollution
Philly Air Quality John Kopp/PhillyVoice

Philadelphia residents are advised to stay indoors Thursday because the air quality remains at unhealthy levels due to smoke stemming from the Canadian wildfires.

UPDATE: As of 12 p.m. Thursday, the city's streets department has suspended all outdoor operations, including trash and recycling collection, until further notice. Residents should leave trash that was not collected before noon at its regular pickup location.

After two days of increasingly smoky, hazy conditions, Philadelphia experienced even worse air pollution last night as high concentrations of smoke particles from Canadian wildfires choked the skies, lending them an orange hue and the sun an eerie shade of red.

Shortly before midnight, Philly had the worst air quality of any major city in the world, hitting 447 on the air quality index measured by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Anything above 300 is considered "hazardous" and a Code Maroon, the most severe tier on the scale, which maxes out at 500.

"It was a little bit of a surprise that it got quite as high on the scale as it did," Alex Dodd, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service's Mount Holly office, said Thursday. 

But after weathering an especially smoggy night, Philly residents can expect safer air as Thursday continues.

"It appears that the worst is behind us," Dodd said. "The air quality levels peaked or were at their worst last afternoon, evening, overnight. And they appear to have come (down) a fair amount, believe it or not. I'm starting to hear some people at least are seeing a little bit more of the sun out there, red or orange as it might be."

Levels had tumbled to around 243 by 11:30 a.m. Thursday, landing Philadelphia in a safer, albeit still "very unhealthy," Code Purple. Air quality levels were similar in the Philadelphia suburbs, but better in South Jersey. 

Under the current Code Purple, Philly residents are advised to continue limiting their time outdoors and wearing an N95 or KN95 mask when they do venture outside — a continuation of the guidelines offered Wednesday, when levels were at Code Red. The city is currently offering free masks at five resource hubs maintained by the Department of Public Health. They are open Monday through Friday, generally between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., but specific hours can be found online. Those hubs are located at:

• Bethany Baptist Church at 5747 Warrington Ave.
• Mi Salud Wellness Center at 200 E. Wyoming Ave.
• Mt. Enon Baptist Church at 500 Snyder Ave.
• Whitman Plaza at 330 W. Oregon Ave.
• Shoppers at La Salle at 5301 Chew Ave.

James Garrow, the communications director for the city's health department, said in an email that there are no current plans to open more hubs, though that may be a future consideration if need continues.

"Our recommendations have not changed," he said. "Our recommendations for all unhealthy air quality situations are that people stay indoors, wear a mask if they must go outside and strongly consider postponing outdoor events. Due to the changing colors, we are now just trying to warn the public that there is an air quality alert in place, regardless of the assigned color."

Flights to Philadelphia International Airport resumed around 10 a.m. after the Federal Aviation Authority temporarily grounded incoming planes due to low visibility early Wednesday morning. Flights into Newark, New Jersey are still operating on delays of roughly 30 minutes.

A spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia said in an email that classes will remain in-person under the current forecast, although outdoor activities such as recess or field trips will be postponed, canceled or moved indoors where possible. All windows and doors at schools will remain closed to minimize air pollution, but "indoor temperatures should not reach levels that would warrant early dismissal."

While air quality may continue to fluctuate, particularly in the evening, meteorologists like Dodd do not expect levels to return to the highs observed Wednesday night or even early Thursday morning. Haze will remain over the next couple days as the smoke clears out, but some weekend outdoor activities should be safe for those without asthma or heart or lung conditions.

"Continue to check your local air quality department information from your news sources and certainly check our forecasts and alerts on," Dodd said. "But just from a meteorological standpoint, it does look like things will at least continue to improve enough heading into the weekend so that most folks that don't have any preexisting health conditions should be able to enjoy getting outside."

Follow Kristin & PhillyVoice on Twitter: @kristin_hunt | @thePhillyVoice
Like us on Facebook: PhillyVoice
Have a news tip? Let us know.

Follow us

Health Videos