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June 07, 2023

Philly residents urged to stay indoors due to poor air quality caused by Canadian wildfires

City health officials are advising people to wear N95 masks when outdoors due to worsening conditions; the Wednesday night Phillies game has been postponed

Health News Pollution
philly air quality Jon Tuleya/PhillyVoice

Haze caused by smoke from the Canadian wildfires filled the air in Philadelphia on Wednesday for a second straight day. As a result of the worsening conditions, city officials recommends people stay indoors.

The air in Southeastern Pennsylvania is so saturated with smoke particles from the wildfires in Canada that it may become very unhealthy to breathe, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. 

The DEP issued a Code Red air quality alert Wednesday for the entire state, signifying that some people may experience adverse health effects. But it warned that the air quality in the Philadelphia region may worsen to Code Purple conditions, when the risk of health complications becomes greater for everyone.

Similar air quality advisories have been issued for South Jersey. 

Philadelphia health officials have advised residents to avoid going outside as much as possible, and to wear an N95 or KN95 mask if they do. Areas with high congestion or low circulation, like highways, should be avoided, as should any strenuous outdoor activity. To mitigate current pollution levels, residents are being asked to limit car travel and refrain from using gas-powered lawn equipment.

The city's health department is requesting venues that are hosting outdoor events Wednesday to postpone them for safety. The Phillies game against the Detroit Tigers scheduled for 6:05 p.m., for instance, has been moved to Thursday at the same time. 

The air pollution is particularly hazardous for children, the elderly, people who are pregnant and those with respiratory disease or heart conditions. 

The Code Red is an escalation of the Code Orange alert issued by the DEP on Tuesday. Smoke from wildfires in Canada has polluted the air in several U.S. states this week, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, and has worsened over the past day.

"We're just seeing a little bit more concentrated smoke from wildfires up in southern Canada, specifically southern Quebec, moving into the area particularly for this afternoon and this evening, probably lingering right into tomorrow," said Alex Dodd, a meteorologist with the NWS Mount Holly office. 

The DEP has not issued a Code Red for Thursday, but Dodd believes it is likely. "From a meteorological standpoint, it doesn't look like the air currents that are driving the smoke down are going to change too much between now and tomorrow."

U.S. air quality is generally measured on a fine particulate matter index of 0 to 500, standardized by the EPA. While a range of 0 to 50 is considered good, a range of 101 to 150 is considered "unhealthy for sensitive groups," triggering a Code Orange. The next tier of 151 to 200, considered broadly unhealthy, rises to Code Red. Code Purple, which ranges from 201 to 300, means the air quality is "very unhealthy." Only Code Maroon, when the air quality is labeled "hazardous," is worse. 

Particulate levels in Philadelphia were hovering around 185 at 1 p.m., according to AirNow, an air quality monitor maintained by the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection. 

Dodd said conditions should improve over the weekend, thanks to scattered rain forecasted for Friday, but that air pollution is unlikely to "fully clear out" until Sunday or Monday, when more showers are expected.

In the meantime, city officials are urging Philly residents to close their doors and windows and turn on fans to keep their homes safe. People who are experiencing nausea or dizziness, or having trouble breathing, are urged to seek medical attention immediately.

This story has been updated with new information about the Phillies game.

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