This article was updated 9:30 a.m. June 8 with new information about the extension of the air quality alert.
Air quality in many communities across Michigan and much of the eastern United States continues to be affected by smoke from ongoing Canadian wildfires.
This week, pollution from the smoky fires is reaching levels considered unhealthy for sensitive groups. As a result, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy have issued an air quality alert: there will be elevated levels of fine particulate pollution in the air in central and southeast Michigan on Wednesday, June 7, Thursday, June 8 and Friday, June 9.
Fine particulate air pollution, also called PM2.5, poses a health risk because the particles are so small. Their microscopic size means that they can be inhaled and cause serious health problems, especially for individuals who are very young or very old; or for those with heart or lung diseases, including asthma.
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the levels of these fine particles in the air in much of lower Michigan are expected to be unhealthy for sensitive groups.
Who is most vulnerable to poor air quality?
Sensitive groups include children, older adults and anyone with heart disease or lung and respiratory diseases like asthma. Older adults are at risk particularly because they may have undiagnosed cardiac or lung disease.
Long-term exposure to particle pollution is linked to a number of health problems.
Tips to stay healthy and safe while fine particulate pollution levels are elevated
Small precautions can make a big difference, including keeping doors and windows closed to your home.
For sensitive groups:
- Limit the time spent outdoors.
- Avoid strenuous activity when outside.
- Consider moving any physical activity indoors.
- Check medications to make sure they are available and not expired.
- Talk to your health care provider if symptoms are worsening.
- Run your air conditioner if you have one. Keep the fresh air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent bringing in additional smoke.
For everyone else:
- Be active outside when the air quality is better, like the early morning hours.
- Shorten overall time spent outside.
- Adjust outdoor activities to be less strenuous – like walking instead of running.
It’s expected that the air will improve in the coming days; but it’s important to monitor the air quality conditions – especially if you or your family have health issues. The Air Quality Index AirNow allows you to get air quality data about where you live. The National Weather Service is also a good resource to monitor any air quality alerts in your area.
James D. Grant, M.D., is senior vice president and chief medical officer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.