EVANSVILLE, Ind. — Smoke from western wildfires could affect local air quality this week, prompting Indiana to join a growing list of states issuing air quality alerts.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) on has issued a statewide Air Quality Action Day (AQAD) for Wednesday and Thursday.
The agency is forecasting high levels of fine particles (PM2.5) in the air because of smoke from wildfires in the western United States and southern Canada in what IDEM called a “unique widespread event.”
Smoke from the wildfires, which include a two-week old blaze in Oregon covering more than 540 square miles, is affecting air quality nationwide including some cities on the East Coast.
In all, 83 wildfires are burning across 13 states, mostly in the Western U.S. and covering nearly 1.3 million acres of land, according to a USA Today report Tuesday. The smoke has traveled more than 2,700 miles to reach New York City.
Dry conditions, drought and record-breaking heat waves have created the conditions to spark such large blazes. Scientists agree climate change worsens those conditions and can make wildfires larger and more intense.
Although not everyone has the same sensitivity to wildfire smoke, it’s still a good idea to avoid breathing smoke if possible, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles.
Fine particle pollution is microscopic dust, soot and liquid drops that can settle deep into the lungs and cannot be easily exhaled.
Those especially at risk include those with respiratory or heart disease, diabetes and pregnant women, as well as children and the elderly, according to the EPA. People are particularly vulnerable after several days of high PM2.5 exposure.
Air Quality Action Days generally occur when weather conditions such as light winds, higher humidity and lower atmospheric conditions trap pollutants close to the ground, or when winds transport smoke to the area.