91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit 104.1 Grand Rapids 91.3 Port Huron 89.7 Lansing 91.1 Flint
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Smoke from Canadian wildfires again threatening health in Michigan - What to know

A haze of smoke from wildfires in Canada in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 6/27/2023
Dustin Dwyer
Michigan Radio
A haze of smoke from wildfires in Canada in Grand Rapids, Michigan, 6/27/2023

Wildfires in Canada are once again affecting air quality in Michigan.

The levels of ozone and particulate matter are so high, everyone should take precautions, according to Angela Tin, national senior director with the American Lung Association.

Information about air quality is being updated via several government sites. Here's where you can go for answers and how the sites work.

"Usually when we're concerned about air quality we look at those that are the most affected," she said. "Young people because they're breathing faster, and older people because they may have diminished lung capacity. But this is bad for everyone, healthy people, people walking outside, people doing work outside — it's unhealthy for everybody."

This week, the average air quality is expected to fluctuate between unhealthy for sensitive groups to unhealthy for everyone, say meteorologists at the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE). The agency said there's the possibility of the Upper Peninsula and northern Lower Peninsula experiencing some hours when concentrations cause the Air Quality Index to be "very unhealthy to hazardous" for everyone.

Tin encouraged everyone to postpone their usual outdoor runs, walks or other activities, and even be cautious indoors.

"Don't forget, it's not just outdoors, it's inside too," she said. "Keep your air conditioner on and on a recirculating mode, don't be opening the windows, don't be vacuuming, perhaps even minimize the exercise indoors."

Tin said air quality doesn't immediately improve as soon as the air appears to be clear, so waiting a day or two before engaging in strenuous outdoor activity is best.

And she said people will need to be better educated and better prepared for wildfires in the future. That includes having air purifiers and enough food and supplies at home for extended stays indoors - as well as an evacuation kit in the event of a nearby wildfire.

We spoke with Sara Adar, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, about air quality in thestate. We’ve made a list of everything you need to know about air quality in Michigan, its effects, and what you should do if you get a bad air quality notification.

What does high air quality index mean?

The high air quality index means that there are a lot of fine smoke particles in the air right now. The air particles are tiny — half the diameter of a human hair. When there’s an excess of those smoke particles in the air, it makes the air quality index go up.

What is unhealthy about smoke inhalation?

The small smoke particles can travel deep into the lungs causing the body to have inflammation. Smoke particles can also stimulate nerves in the lungs, which can cause issues with blood pressure and heart rate. These smoke particles can even travel into the bloodstream and once they are in the bloodstream they can travel anywhere in the body, including the brain.

Is it okay to exercise outdoors when the air quality index is high?

Doctors with the McLaren and Corewell healthcare systems say they've seen an increase in ER visits and hospitalizations for air-quality related illnesses.

Strenuous exercise outdoors is not recommended. When exercising you are breathing more deeply, and the smoke particles can enter the lungs, which can
take a toll on the body. If you have access to an indoor workout facility, or can do a workout from home, do that instead.

How is the quality of smoke polluted air different from the usual air pollution we experience daily?

The levels of the fine particles are more densely packed than what the body is typically used to. Currently the air quality is reaching levels of around 100 micrograms per cubic meter. Typically, the daily ambient air quality standards are around 35 micrograms per cubic meter.

Who is at risk when there is a high air quality index warning?

Children, pregnant people, and individuals with pre-existing health, heart, or lung conditions.

How can I protect myself and/or my household when the air quality is bad?

Stay indoors and keep pets indoors as much as possible. If you have to be outdoors wearing a KN95 mask can help. Inside, using an air purifier, air conditioner, or a fan can also be beneficial.

Are the air quality issues from wildfires going to continue to be a problem?

While as a nation we have made strides to curb pollution from cars and trucks, wildfires are an issue that we are wrestling with and will continue to wrestle with for some time. Wildfires account for 25% to 50% of the yearly pollution in the West. Wildfire pollution has continued to increase yearly.

How can I track the air quality in my area?

There are several apps available that will give you up-to-date and detailed information about the air quality in whatever location you're in. All of these are available on iOS and Android:

Additionally, folks living on the West Coast with greater familiarity with wildfires reply on the PurpleAir map to see what air quality is like in their vicinity. The EPA also has its own AIRNw map to track air quality using information provided by citizen scientist air quality trackers as well as government-issued sensors.

How do I read an air quality index (AQI) value?

The EPA's AIRNow suggests thinking of the AQI as a yardstick that runs from 0 to 500. According to them, "the higher the AQI value, the greater the level of air pollution and the greater the health concern."

Here's a basic breakdown in handy chart-form from AIRNow:

 rainbow colored chart explaining air quality index values
Environmental Protection Agency

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
Related Content