ALBANY — New Yorkers should stay inside whenever possible and avoid the outdoors for the foreseeable future as wildfires in Canada have blanketed the Northeast with smoke and haze, Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday.
Hundreds of wildfires are currently burning in Canada and their effects are being seen throughout New York. Speaking to reporters Wednesday in Albany, the Democratic governor said the state’s air quality index (AQI) had significantly deteriorated in the past 48 hours.
“New York City and Syracuse were among the worst places [for air quality] on the entire planet yesterday,” Hochul said. “Normally, our air quality index is around 50 in New York state. In the last 24 hours — we just got these numbers this morning — we have updated information that it is now a 400 index in parts of our state, that’s an 800% increase.”
Hochul issued a recommendation Wednesday morning that school districts cancel outdoor activities due to the haze and smoke.
According to the state Department of Environmental Conversation’s website, as of Wednesday afternoon, the upper Hudson Valley had a 110 AQI and is unhealthy for sensitive groups. The region includes Fulton, Greene, Montgomery, Saratoga and Schenectady counties.
New Yorkers: smoke from Canadian wildfires will continue to impact air quality in much of the state today. Our team is monitoring conditions closely.
Please take precautions to limit exposure, especially if you’re part of a sensitive group. pic.twitter.com/ampeUYpw2f
— Governor Kathy Hochul (@GovKathyHochul) June 7, 2023
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air quality website showed a 200 AQI in Schenectady County, as of Wednesday afternoon, and it recommended people reduce activity or consider going indoors.
The state issued a continuing air quality health advisory for the region Thursday, but other regions of the state were expected to be worse.
The New York City Metro area, Long Island, Eastern Lake Ontario and Central and Western regions were all expected to reach “unhealthy” levels Thursday, the DEC said.
Only the New York City Metro area, Eastern Lake Ontario and the Central region reached that level Wednesday.
The Adirondacks had the state’s best air quality with air quality listed there as moderate.
“Bottom line is this: if you can stay indoors, stay indoors. This is detrimental to people’s health. This is expected to go for the next few days,” Hochul said. “So, people need to prepare for this over the long haul. We can all feel it. It is an effect of the collateral damages of climate change. It’s an environmental crisis and I want to make sure all New Yorkers are aware of this.”
Environmental advocates were at the state Capitol the same day to urge state lawmakers to pass a package of bills aimed at combating climate change. According to the EPA, research shows that warmer springs, longer summer dry seasons and drier soils and vegetation lead to an increase in wildfire season length and frequency.
Some of the bills they support would create a superfund to address climate change, paid for by oil companies; reduce single-use plastic waste; cap energy bills and allow the state Public Service Commission authority to align gas utility regulations with the state’s climate laws.
Smoke & haze continue to move in from the north. In this satellite loop, you can see a thicker plume over central NY and northern PA which will be shifting in over the next few hours. Expect a reduction in visibility, poor air quality & the smell of smoke. #NYwx #NJwx #CTwx pic.twitter.com/Fzeq1u20Wh
— NWS New York NY (@NWSNewYorkNY) June 7, 2023
Judith Enck is president of Beyond Plastics and served as an EPA regional administrator during the Obama administration.
“The air pollution risk that every single New Yorker is facing today is incredibly real. What doctors are most concerned about is particulate matter from wildfires, specifically, the very fine particles that get lodged in our lungs,” Enck said. “This is a risk for people with respiratory disease, heart disease [and] pregnant women. This is the first time I remember a governor of the state of New York telling children and residents to stay indoors.”
Environmental advocates are pushing for state lawmakers to take up climate bills before the end of session given the Canadian wildfires and smoke hovering across the NE pic.twitter.com/Z2zKmUPRpA
— Ashley Hupfl (@AshleyHupfl) June 7, 2023
Blair Horner, executive director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the bills are in various stages of pending in the state Legislature. The legislative session is scheduled to end Friday.
“Often, what happens in Albany in the last few days [of the legislative session] are bad. This week should be something that’s good. There are huge fires and firefighters from coast-to-coast in Canada. We saw what happened in Australia, where people had to be evacuated by boat because of the dangers of fires. This is just the beginning,” Horner said. “Enough platitudes about the concern about climate change, let’s have some real action involving your lawmakers.”
Hochul also explained she does not plan to issue a state-of-emergency order, since those orders are designed to make available funding and resources to combat a crisis.
“A state of emergency is [used] as a mechanism where there’s something you can do about it. We don’t have a lot we can do about the circumstances of contaminated, toxic air coming into our airspace,” Hochul said, once again urging New Yorkers to stay inside. “Even if you’re just feeling a little scratch in your throat, being exposed that consistently is dangerous for your health. With all these people with asthma and compromised immune systems and respiratory illnesses and having come off COVID-19, this is a dangerous time for New Yorkers. I want everyone to take this very seriously.”