Hazardous smoke particles from raging Canadian wildfires are lingering in Baltimore, casting a harmful haze around the city. Here’s what to know about the haze and how you can protect yourself amid bad air quality.
Why is it hazy?
Winds carrying wildfire smoke from eastern Canada are causing hazy skies in the Baltimore area. Wildfires continue to burn across Canada, where nearly 1 million acres have burned over the past two weeks.
What’s the air quality now?
The Maryland Department of the Environment has issued a Code Yellow air quality alert, which indicates moderate air quality. Breathing particle pollution made up of acids, inorganic compounds, organic chemicals, soot, metals, soil, dust, biological materials or anything else that might have burned in the wildfire, such as houses and cars, is the principal public health threat from wildfire smoke.
Who is most at risk?
Seniors, pregnant women, children, and those with respiratory and heart conditions might be more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency recommends that sensitive groups avoid strenuous activities, while others should opt for less strenuous options so they don’t breathe as hard.
The Charm City has a high rate of asthma compared with the rest of Maryland and the United States. Asthma — a disease that constricts airways in the lungs and causes wheezing, chest tightness, coughing and trouble breathing — affects 13.7% of adults in Baltimore, compared with 9% across the state and country, according to the Maryland Department of Health.
According to census data, 14.1% of Baltimore City’s population is 65 and older, compared with 17.9% in Baltimore County.
How can I stay safe?
Stay indoors as much as possible.
If headed outdoors, wear a N95 mask to offer some protection from breathing in harmful particles.
Baltimore City is handing out masks to the general public at four Enoch Pratt Free Library locations during operating hours, and expects to add more locations Friday:
- Central Library, 400 Cathedral Street (closes at 8 p.m.)
- Canton Library (closes at 8 p.m.)
- Cherry Hill Library (closes at 7 p.m.)
- Orleans Library (closes at 8 p.m.)
The city is distributing masks for people experiencing homelessness at the following locations:
- My Sisters Place Women’s Center, 17 W. Franklin St.
- Beans & Bread, 402 S. Bond St.
- Franciscan Center, 101 W. 23rd St.
The city is also handing out masks to older adults at the following senior centers:
- Harford Senior Center, 4920 Harford Rd.
- Hatton Senior Center, 2825 Fait Ave.
- Oliver Senior Center, 1700 N. Gay St.
- Sandtown-Winchester Senior Center, 1601 Baker St.
- Waxter Senior Center, 1000 Cathedral St.
- Zeta Center for Healthy and Active Aging, 4501 Reisterstown Rd.
Breaking News Alerts
The CDC recommends finding a room that can be closed off from outside air. If you don’t have a commercial or industrial air filter, you can make an effective DIY air filtration device by using a box fan and common air filters.
What about pets?
Wildfire smoke is also harmful to furry and feathered family members. The EPA suggests watching out for coughing, runny noses and itchy eyes of pets, and warns smoke is especially harmful to pet birds. According to the American Kennel Club, breeds with short snouts such as pugs or bulldogs, as well as puppies and senior dogs, may be especially at risk if inhaling too much smoke.
When will the haze go away?
The National Weather Service forecasts that the smoke will linger around Maryland through at least Friday. The Environmental Protection Agency publishes regular air quality reports by ZIP code at AirNow.gov.
What about the O’s game or practice? Or other stuff?
The Orioles are set to return to Baltimore to face the Royals on Friday night, when air quality is supposed to return closer to normal.
The hazardous air quality has prompted cancellations or adjusted operations at Baltimore-area schools, parks and sporting events. For more information, visit The Baltimore Sun’s running list of impacted activities.