The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has declared a Code Orange Air Quality Action Day for all of Pennsylvania for June 30, 2023 for particulate matter from the smoke from Canadian wildfires.
The average Air Quality Index readings for the entire day will likely be in the Code Orange range, however local conditions could be in Code Red. Highest concentrations will likely be in the early morning hours. Residents are encouraged to check airnow.gov for their local conditions.
On a Code Orange Air Quality Action Day, children, sensitive populations such as older people, those who exercise or work outdoors and those with lung or respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema, or bronchitis should reduce or eliminate their outdoor activities.
In Code Red conditions, young children, the elderly, and those with respiratory problems, such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis, are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution and should avoid outdoor activities, and everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.
Smoke due to wildfires in eastern Canada will likely contribute to daily average concentrations of fine particulate matter in the Code Orange range. Additionally, the Philadelphia Area (Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties) could potentially see ozone concentrations reach Code Orange levels due to ozone precursor chemicals carried by the wildfire smoke.
Fine particulate matter (or PM-2.5) comes in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals. Some are emitted directly from a source, such as construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks, or fires. Most particles form in the atmosphere as a result of complex reactions of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides (called “precursors”), which are pollutants emitted from power plants, industries, and automobiles.
Ozone is formed when airborne chemicals such as nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds (called “precursors”) react with sunlight. High ozone levels are most common during summer months when there are long days with plentiful sunshine and high levels of ozone precursors combine. Although ozone precursors are most often generated by car exhaust and industrial air emissions, wildfire smoke can provide additional precursors. Ozone pollution is most common in densely populated areas with higher amounts of car exhaust and industrial air emissions.
Residents and businesses within the Air Quality Action Day areas are strongly encouraged to voluntarily help reduce fine particulate matter and air pollution by:
Avoiding the open burning of leaves, trash, and other materials. Avoiding the use of gas-powered lawn and garden equipment. Driving less by carpooling or using public transportation. Combining errands to reduce vehicle trips. Limiting engine idling. Refueling cars and trucks after dusk. Conserving electricity by setting air conditioning to a higher temperature and turning off lights that are not in use.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health also has recommendations on how to protect yourself from air pollution.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Air Quality Index (AQI) provides standardized color codes for forecasting and reporting daily air quality. Green signifies good air quality; Yellow means moderate air quality; Orange represents unhealthy pollution levels for sensitive groups of people; and Red warns of unhealthy pollution levels for all. An Air Quality Action Day is declared when the AQI is forecasted to be Code Orange or higher.