Air Quality Worsens Across The Finger Lakes

The effects of Canadian wildfires are getting worse in our area. For a third day, the state Department of Environmental Conservation has issued an air quality warning. And they now say the air is unhealthy for everyone. The state health department is encouraging all of us to avoid spending much time outdoors. And it's asking employers to limit their employees’ time working outdoors. 

Some of those who should be most cautious are people with chronic respiratory illnesses or lung diseases, congestive heart failure, and other heart diseases, the elderly, and young children. 

But, exposure to wildfire smoke is serious for everyone. Alistair Hayden is a professor at Cornell University.

"One thing a lot of people don’t realize is that wildfire smoke can be deadly. And not just 10 years down the road. People die during heavy smoke events," he said.

Hayden said there are several things you can do to protect yourself from the smoke. Stay inside with doors and windows closed. Use an air cleaner. If you have central air install a MERV-13-rated air filter. If you don’t have those he says there’s a cheaper option.

"Build your own air cleaner. And you can literally do that by duct-taping a MERV-13 air filter to a box fan," he said.

Hayden said it’s not just people with certain health conditions that are at high risk from wildfire smoke. It’s dangerous for anyone who regularly works outside, like agricultural workers, also unsheltered people, and anyone living in substandard housing area at higher risk, too.

Hayden said he’d like to see municipalities set up clean air refuges during high smoke conditions like the one we’re going through now. He says they’d be like the cooling or warming centers that are opened up during extreme weather conditions.

He says this is probably not the last time Finger Lakes communities will face wildfire smoke. Climate change and forest management practices are making them more frequent.

You can find details about other ways to protect yourself from wildfire smoke here.  A video showing how to make a cheap air cleaner like the one Hayden described is here.

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