Forest fires in Canada: in New York, air pollution reaches peaks

Ia Big Apple in the fog. If forest fires have catastrophic consequences in Quebec (150 fires still active, 3.8 million hectares burned in 2023), they also affect the United States to a lesser extent, and in particular New York, where the sky is dark. It has clouded over the past few days and the air has become unbreathable. So much so that the masks of the Covid have reappeared in the streets of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, or even in Central Park, the gigantic green lung of the economic and cultural capital of the United States.

The smoke from the fires carries ash and a pungent smell that irritates the eyes and throats of the 8.5 million New Yorkers, who are struggling to escape the problem. The mask remains the only solution. “I don’t know if it’s psychological or physical, but I know there are advantages to wearing a mask, although obviously it can’t prevent everything,” a 43-year-old lawyer told the court. AFP.

READ ALSOFires in Canada: more than 2.7 million hectares have already burnedSince the start of the week, authorities in the city and state of New York have multiplied alert messages and started distributing masks.

“One of the worst” air qualities “in the world”

“I am saddened today to see that New York City, which usually enjoys good air quality, has one of the worst in the world because of these wildfires” in Canada, s New York Senator Chuck Schumer is alarmed, speaking Wednesday from the Senate in Washington, where he leads the Democratic majority.

The situation is even worse in the large, green, upscale suburbs north of New York along the Hudson River, where the sky turns yellow-orange-gray and the air scrapes your throat.

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul said Wednesday’s air quality index dropped from “harmful” to “very harmful” and all outdoor school and extracurricular activities were suspended. or limited “to what is strictly necessary”. “This is not the day to train for the marathon,” warned, with his sense of understatement, the city’s mayor Eric Adams.

According to the site, which monitors pollution levels across the planet, the index for New York reached 158, with a concentration of PM2.5 microparticles at a level 14 times higher than the standards of the World Health Organization.

“Breathing smoke”

Tuesday evening, this index reached 218, a record. New York’s most famous landmarks – Statue of Liberty, Brooklyn Bridge, One World Trade Center Tower – no longer stand out as usual under clear blue skies.

“Yesterday, when I came home from my lessons, I was breathing in smoke”, testifies to AFP Evangelia Antonakos, a 47-year-old mathematics teacher, accompanied by her 5-year-old child also wearing a mask.

Further south, the federal capital Washington also woke up on Wednesday to a pungent smell and cloudy skies despite sunny weather.

“The air quality today will be harmful to the health of people with heart or respiratory disease, the elderly, children and adolescents,” according to local authorities.

As in New York and the state of Maryland, public schools have canceled outdoor activities for children, including sports.

The air quality index in Washington was 199 Wednesday morning – on a scale of 0 to 500 – a level considered “harmful” and expected to persist Thursday. And, according to the site, tens of millions of inhabitants of the northeastern and eastern United States (New York, Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, etc.) are subjected this week to very poor air quality.

The White House calls on its citizens to “take precautions”

This Wednesday, the White House called on Americans whose health is fragile to “take precautions” in the face of deteriorating air quality.

“We urge everyone in affected areas to be mindful of local conditions. Make sure your neighbours, your friends, your family are well. Take precautions especially if you have health problems,” said Karine-Jean Pierre, spokesperson for the US executive.

She called this situation “another worrying sign of how the climate crisis is affecting our lives”.

As a gray haze clouds the Washington sky, Joe Biden’s spokeswoman clarified that the 80-year-old president did not wear a mask to protect himself.

100 million Americans impacted

Note that while the images in New York are quite impressive, the air quality of a large part of the United States is also impacted. Thus, more than 100 million Americans were affected on Wednesday by air quality alerts.

These alerts concern most of the northeastern United States, from Chicago in the north to Atlanta in the south. Air quality in this area “is primarily impacted by Canadian fires, although other local pollution emissions and weather may also play a role,” the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said. ).

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