After days of poor air quality in New York and much of the Northeast, the state’s top health official says monitoring will continue.
Acting Health Commissioner James McDonald in an interview with Spectrum News 1 on Friday said air quality improved in most areas of New York state on Friday after two days of milky and sometimes orange skies due to wildfires blazing in Canada.
"We’re going to monitor things and I just encourage you to monitor along with us, though," McDonald said.
New Yorkers can monitor air quality on their phone, just as they would check the daily weather, McDonald said. At the same time, New Yorkers can take part in weekend outdoor activities. But he warns the wildfires in Canada still could pose a problem.
"These fires in Canada, they’ve been going on for six weeks," he said. "It was just the winds changed that brought them here."
Gov. Kathy Hochul this week announced distribution of N95 masks. Mask wearing, especially for vulnerable people, can help and air purifiers installed in homes can also improve indoor air quality, McDonald said.
"We have to be on our guard, be vigilant and keep an eye out for this," he said. "But certainly we’re going to be looking at wind patterns and we’re going to be looking at what is the risk for New York. If we see a concern, we’re going to let people know."
The smoke-filled air posed problems for people with respiratory illnesses and heat disease as well as older people and infants. For now, the health effects on people for the last two days are not yet clear.
"People who have lung disease are vulnerable, people who have heart disease are vulnerable and then the elderly and very, very young," McDonald said. "But I can’t give you numbers of who’s been affected just yet, it’s going to take some time to get those numbers."
The smoky skies come as state officials have called for stepped up efforts to address a changing climate and as New York seeks to transition to cleaner and more renewable forms of energy. McDonald pointed to state health facilities that moved to transition to renewable power.
"As a state, we can do large policy things," McDonald said. "Renewable energy, isn’t just a good idea. It’s necessary and that’s something we have to do."
Environmental advocates like NYPIRG’s Blair Horner this week urged lawmakers to take up a range of measures to address the changing climate as the legislative session draws to a close.
"It’s going to get worse and the price is going to go up," Horner said. "What are they waiting for?"