Most of Maryland in ‘Code Red’ for air quality due to wildfires in Canada

Smoke due to wildfires in Canada cast a haze over Baltimore and other parts of Maryland on June 6, 2023. (Photo by Emily Westmark for Maryland Matters)

As of Wednesday, a majority of Maryland is under an air quality advisory due to smoke wafting in from raging wildfires in Eastern Canada, and state environment officials are warning that Marylanders should limit their exposure outside.

“Fires over Quebec continue to produce prodigious smoke which is being continuously funneled on northerly flow towards the Mid-Atlantic. Presently a concentrated plume of smoke is working south through Pennsylvania and New York towards the eastern half of Maryland,” according to the state’s Department of the Environment’s most recent air quality forecast discussion.

The smokey air began rolling in Tuesday evening, bringing in fine particles that are lung irritants, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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High concentrations fine particles brought in through wildfire smoke can lead to a variety of symptoms, ranging from “relatively minor (e.g., eye and respiratory tract irritation) to more serious health effects (e.g., exacerbation of asthma and heart failure, and premature death),” according to the EPA.

Additional health effects attributed to short-term wildfire smoke exposure includes coughing, phlegm, wheezing, and difficulty breathing.

While more Northern cities are experiencing the brunt of the smoke and suffering from reduced air quality due to the wildfires in Canada, Maryland is catching a fair amount of smokey air.

Air quality is indicated through the air quality index (AQI), a metric that ranges from 0 to 500 AQI, with lower numbers meaning better air quality, according to AirNow, a partnership between federal environmental and health agencies. ‘Good’ air quality index ranges from 0 to 50.

In Maryland, Garrett and Allegany counties are under a ‘moderate’ air quality advisory, at 89 AQI, the Maryland Department of the Environment reports. In this area, people who are uniquely sensitive to air quality are recommended to reduce outdoor excursion.

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At 112 AQI, Washington County’s air quality is considered ‘unhealthy’ for sensitive groups, which includes children, older adults and people with respiratory disease or heart disease. These groups are recommended to take precautions and limit prolonged outdoor exertion, according to AirNow.

All of Maryland’s remaining counties and Baltimore City are under a Code Red at 151 AQI, meaning that all residents should limit prolonged outdoor exertion and sensitive groups should avoid outdoor activities, according to AirNow.

Current projections from the state environmental department indicate that some reprieve from smokey air is likely to arrive between Thursday and Friday, when a majority of the state will move from an “unhealthy” air advisory to “unhealthy for sensitive groups.”

This story was originally published by Maryland Matters. It is republished here with permission.

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Danielle J. Brown, Maryland Matters
Danielle J. Brown, Maryland Matters

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.