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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – An Air Quality Alert extended into Thursday across most of Ohio due to plumes of smoke from wildfires in Canada drifting southeast across the eastern U.S.

The alert was first put in place on Tuesday; they are issued when pollution levels exceed 100 on a 0-500 scale. AirNow, a government air-quality organization, tracks the latest air Air Quality Index (AQI) readings. Follow this link to AirNow to check quality levels across Ohio.

According to the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), “This week is the first time in 13 years that the region experienced USG alert days for PM2.5. The last was in August of 2010,”

Smoke particles accounted for the highly elevated AQI levels from smoke particulates that led to alerts in 18 states across the East and Midwest on Wednesday.

Tiny smoke particles can enter the lungs and bloodstream, especially with strenuous or prolonged activity when pollution levels rise and wildfire smoke is close to the surface.

Active children, the elderly, and people with asthma, COPD and heart conditions are more likely to experience symptoms during an alert, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) said. Those at risk are advised to limit their outdoor activity; if you do experience symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

Symptoms can include headaches, irritated eyes and sinuses, fatigue, trouble breathing, chest pains, asthma attacks, and an irritated throat or increased coughing.

Cause of Poor Air Quality

Canada is in the midst its worst wildfire activity so early in the season. As many as 423 active wildfires have scorched more than 9.3 million acres, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. The plumes of smoke stretch from the Northwest Territories to the southeastern U.S.

The haze hanging in the air over Ohio and surrounding states is the result of raging wildfires in the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia transported south by the upper-level winds. Stalled low pressure over the Northeast and Maritime provinces has reached as far south as Arkansas, Alabama and the Carolinas.

The concentrations of particle pollution have been historically high in the Ohio Valley and Mid-Atlantic region, resulting in a thick blanket of orange smoke and haze at times that turned to sun a fiery red color. New York City recorded a record elevated Air Quality Index (AQI) of 405 on a scale of 1-500. Levels above 100 are considered unhealthy for sensitive people; greater than 300 is hazardous for everyone spending time outdoors.

Wildfire Season Worsened by Heat

A combination of extreme heat and little moisture across portions of Canada contributed to extensive early-season wildfires in the forests and grasslands.

A blocking pattern that builds high pressure aloft has worked in tandem with low pressure rotating counterclockwise over eastern New England and the Atlantic provinces of Canada to draw wildfire smoke southward.

The vast region of sinking air beneath high pressure warms by compression, further drying the soil, which is conducive to drought and and wildfires in Canada caused mostly by lightning. The worst conditions developed in the middle of May across western Canada.

A historic wildfire was first noticed on May 30 in Atlantic Canada near Halifax, Nova Scotia, that send plumes of smoke into parts of New England.

Things We Can Do To Be Safe

MORPC says there are actions we can take on Quality Alert days to stay safe and help the environment. “The majority of PM2.5  pollution typically comes from vehicle emissions, industry, and burning activity such as wildfires.”

Recommendations include turning off your engine instead of idling your vehicle, not burning wood or leaves on Alert days, and limit mowing your lawn, which will benefit the grass during the current dry spell.

MORPC has information commuting options online with gohio commute.