Friday, May 24, 2024

Experts say Canada wildfires could impact US and your health

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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) – Canadian wildfires have reached the northern and central United States.

Last year, air quality alerts in Michigan lasted several days due to the hazy smokey air. And there is potential for the smoke to return this year.

Keeping track of air quality and the health impact of the smoke is important, even if the wildfires are not as bad as last year.

Many Michiganders are already dealing with seasonal allergies. But the EPA says these wildfires carry a mixture of pollutants that will also make you cough and wheeze, making it difficult to breathe.

Canada’s wildfire season is already affecting the US. Smoke has moved into neighboring states and it’s only a matter of time until heavier smoke hits Michigan.

“We saw just a tremendous amount of smoke that came from all the wildfires that burned last year come into our region, and that’s something that we will have to watch out for again this year,” said First Alert meteorologist Colton Cichoracki.

Cichoracki says these wildfires are a result of mild winters in Canada along with dry weather.

“You need rain, you need snow, you need cooler temperatures, and they just haven’t seen a lot of that over the past few years in Canada,” said Cichoracki.

Robert Wahl, a public health professor at Michigan State University, says whatever’s in the fire’s path is going to burn. This includes chemicals and what Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy calls volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Exposure to these pollutants can lead to a variety of health effects.

“People who have asthma are more likely to have asthma exacerbation or have their asthma triggered. If you have underlying heart conditions, you’re more likely to have a heart attack,” said Wahl.

“It can change your lung function, how well you can breathe, how well you exchange your oxygen,” said Karen Barker of UM Health Sparrow Carson.

If wildfire smoke hits Mid-Michigan, some people may experience symptoms that mimic seasonal allergies. Young children, those over 65, and people with lung and heart conditions are most at risk. Barker says to keep an eye out for air quality alerts and remain cautious.

“Stay inside, use your air conditioning, and if you have to go out, limit your time and activities,” said Barker.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a mobile app called AirNow. It provides daily air quality updates—including a map—and information on active wildfires.

Right now, state-issued air quality alerts, because of smoke coming from Canada, include Montana, North and South Dakota, and Minnesota, as well as parts of Wisconsin and Iowa. Michigan has not issued an alert at this point.

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