DEEP: Air quality in CT to remain at unhealthy levels

Wildfires rage 500 miles away in Canada
Published: Jun. 6, 2023 at 2:05 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 8, 2023 at 12:35 PM EDT
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HARTFORD, CT (WFSB) – Unhealthy air and smoky skies remained prevalent in Connecticut on Thursday.

The state’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, or DEEP, said that the air quality would remain at unhealthy levels.

The National Weather Service said it could last for at least the next few days.

There are a few ways people can track the air quality where they live. Check here.

The air quality index has been unhealthy since Tuesday for many areas in Connecticut.

“If you don’t need to be outside, particularly if you have respiratory issues or other similar ailments, it is strongly encouraged to stay indoors to the greatest extent possible until air quality improves,” said Gov. Ned Lamont.

The reason for the bad air has been Canadian wildfires in Quebec and a northwesterly breeze that blew in some of the thicker plumes.

Doctors are urging people to avoid being outside as much as possible.

UConn Health in Farmington is giving away 100 DIY indoor air filters from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Thursday. They are being distributed at a first come, first serve basis.

Depending on availability, more may be distributed Friday as well.

Eyewitness News has spoken with hospitals in Hartford County. While they’ are not seeing a significant uptick in patients coming in with respiratory issues, they still want people to protect themselves.

“I can definitely feel it in my airways when I walk outside. I can feel the exacerbation of the wheezing and my airway disease,” said Becky Gleason.

Gleason is a respiratory therapist with Hartford HealthCare and has asthma.

“I love to normally run outside every day, but I’ve been limiting my exposure outside, trying to work out inside at a gym,” Gleason said.

With the poor air quality and hazy skies across the state, health officials are urging people to stay inside, especially anyone with a respiratory illness.

“This air quality is not good for anyone,” said Dr. Anumeha Singh, Medical Director for the Dept. of Emergency Medicine at Hartford Hospital.

Doctors said if you need to go outside, have a mask handy. A surgical mask is fine but an N95 will provide the best protection.

Those with asthma should carry their inhalers with them.

“This condition is concerning, these smoke particles can cause severe inflammation, the degree of symptoms really depends on the individual person and their underlying conditions,” Singh said.

Even those considered not vulnerable should avoid prolonged periods outside.

Hartford Hospital and Connecticut Children’s said they have not seen a significant uptick in patients coming in with respiratory issues.

“It doesn’t seem to be affecting too many kids in very significant ways so we feel very lucky about that,” said Dr. John Brancato, Dept. Head of Emergency Medicine at Connecticut Children’s.

Doctors said the cancelation of outdoor activities and sports are likely helping keep those case numbers down.

“I think it’s been very helpful and I think that may be partly why we haven’t seen significant increase in cases,” Brancato said.

“For the last two days we’ve been plagued with wildfire smoke leading to poor visibility and unhealthy air quality,” said meteorologist Scot Haney. “In fact [Wednesday] we reached levels that haven’t been realized in roughly 20 years!”

DEEP posted levels of PM2.5, which refers to fine particulate matter levels.

“When air quality is forecasted to be unhealthy, there is an increased likelihood for all individuals for aggravation of heart or lung disease and premature mortality in persons with cardiopulmonary disease and the elderly,” DEEP said. “There are also increased respiratory effects in the general population.”

The Connecticut Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security said it tracked area of dense smoke that moved into the state on Wednesday.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the smoke could linger for a few days.

“Hazy skies, reduced visibility, and the odor of burning wood is very likely as the smoke plumes are transported over the region,” it said in a news release. “During the times that significant smoke is in your area, it is recommended that people with pre-existing medical conditions remain indoors with windows closed while circulating indoor air with a fan or air conditioner.”

As a result, sensitive groups were warned to be careful and avoid prolonged activity outside.

“If you’re having extreme shortness of breath, chest pain, weakness or symptoms that are really unusual, that’s when you want to seek urgent care or go to an emergency department,” said Dr. David Hill, American Lung Association.

Dr. Husnain Kermalli, chief medical officer at St. Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury said people should limit exposure outside if they have respiratory or heart issues. He also said windows should not be left open.

“Really limiting exposure, making sure you have medications like inhalers handy and really not overdoing it is going to be the name of the game for a day like [Tuesday],” Kermalli said. “It should be ok for the rest of us, but again some of us don’t even know we have these sensitivities until we get into these situations. So, if you find yourself coughing a bit more or having more difficulty breathing, just realize it’s a tough day for air quality unfortunately.”

“There are small particles that bypass the filters in our nose and upper airway that normally filter it out,” said Yale asthma specialist Geoffrey Chupp. “They need to try and stay indoors and stay in the AC where the air can be filtered and protect themselves from a large amount of exposure.”

Channel 3 spoke to DEEP on Tuesday about the smoky skies.

“Those fires are only 500 miles or so from us, so low pressure to our east and high pressure to our west is the perfect time for that smoke to be funneled right into Connecticut and what we’re seeing is elevated levels of fine particulate matter and that’s very small particles, 2.5 microns or smaller, and that’s a fraction of a diameter of human hair,” said Paul Farrell, DEEP assistant director. “So, when you breathe in these particles deep in your lungs, that’s where it can cause health problems from pre-existing asthma and things like that.”

“What we’re seeing this week is dramatic, unhealthy, and unprecedented,” said DEEP commissioner Katie Dykes. “Air pollution from Canadian wildfires, made worse by climate change, is now impacting the air we breathe for a fourth straight day. We recommend that people follow guidance from the Connecticut Department of Public Health to protect themselves from experiencing symptoms from elevated air pollution.”

For more on Channel 3′s Early Warning Weather Forecast, head here.