Harder to Breathe

What’s all this about “Code Red” and “Code Purple” alerts? And do we need to do anything about the “Red Flag” warning? 

Walking around with your head in a fog? Blame it on the triple threat — we’re not talking about Jalen Hurts.

Rather the thick, smoky haze that has settled over the greater Philadelphia region with hazardous results, is the result of local drought, stagnant weather patterns, and catastrophic Canadian wildfires.

The National Weather Service has put out a Code Red* air quality alert that covers Pennsylvania and Delaware. Simply put, our air is officially unhealthy. Expect mild health effects for the general public, and the potential for serious complications for kids, teens, seniors and anyone with heart or respiratory issues, or immunity concerns.

On top of this, there’s a Red Flag warning over New Jersey, Philadelphia & suburbs (out through the Lehigh Valley), which means we have the ideal conditions for dangerous wildfires that would only add to the pollution.

Can you smell it? The smoky haze is from more than 400 fires burning in Canada, from the east (Nova Scotia & Quebec) to the west (British Columbia & Alberta). Our dryer-than-usual conditions exacerbate the situation, adding to the dust and withering plant cover that would otherwise help filter the air.

Not-So-Fun Fact: Wildfire smoke is especially harmful, because it carries tiny particles of pollutants that can be inhaled into our lungs and even enter the bloodstream. It also gets in your eyes and your sinuses, causing burning, itching, and discomfort. Extended exposure can kill a person (the WHO estimates 4.2 millions premature deaths per year due to “particulate matter.”) If you have trouble breathing or experience nausea/dizziness seek medical attention asap.

Officials are hoping the Code Red Air Quality Alert can be lifted or down-graded on Thursday or Friday. Meanwhile some tips to keep in mind:

  1. Stay indoors if possible! Close all your windows. Use fans for air circulation.
  2. Use a free standing indoor air filter with particle remover, if you have it. Or run your air conditioner with the fresh-air intake closed.
  3. Don’t light candles, incense or fireplaces. Limit driving, as burning fossil fuels only adds more pollution to the air.
  4. Wear an N95 outside (cloth or paper masks will not filter out this smoke)
  5. Avoid taking pets on long walks (since they can’t wear masks) and use indoor games and toys to help animals expel the zoomies they would have on your normal walks. 🐕
  6. Keep alert to changing conditions via the city’s real-time air quality page. After code red, there’s purple (increased health risk) and maroon (emergency conditions). Hopefully we won’t be going there but it’s important to stay informed. UPDATE 4:30PM — looks like we’re in purple?! And the Phillies game has been postponed.  

*UPDATE 7:00PM — Ummm… we appear to be pegging the meter, here 😬😬😬 

Source: EPA.gov

Our History with Wildfires

This isn’t the first time the Delaware Valley has been threatened with wildfire smoke. California wildfires left a smoky haze over the Philadelphia region back in 2018 and 2021. The Great 1825 Miramichi Fire burned in New Brunswick, Canada and killed at least 160 lives and burned over 3,000,000 acres while extending into Maine. Another Great Fire — this one in 1919 — burned 2.8 million hectares of forest in Alberta during the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

As global temperatures rise, we can expect the size, frequency and severity of wildfires to increase in the years ahead. Hotter temperatures evaporate more moisture from soil and vegetation, drying out trees, shrubs and grasses and turning leaf litter and fallen branches into kindling. In addition, snowpacks are shrinking and melting earlier in the year, which makes forests more flammable by reducing the water available for vegetation. Now more than ever, it’s important to support sustainable land use and forest management practices. See PennFuture.org for more information on what everyday citizens can do.

About Michael Thomas Leibrandt 11 Articles
Michael Thomas Leibrandt is an Engineer/Consultant/Author/Creator. He lives and works with celiac in Abington, PA

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