Update (11:50 a.m., June 6): The Tompkins County Health Department has updated warnings issued Monday regarding the air quality in Ithaca and the surrounding area, a ripple effect from the wildfires that continue to plague large parts of Canada.

The air quality has worsened from Monday, leading the Tompkins County Health Department to encourage local residents to stay indoors and refrain from strenuous activities. The air is now in the “unhealthy” category, surpassing yesterday’s “Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups.”

“It is best to stay indoors and limit time spent outdoors,” the health department stated. “Resume strenuous outdoor activities when air quality is better.”

The current air quality in Ithaca as of 12 p.m. Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

Monday’s alert was scheduled to expire at midnight, but it is now unclear how long the situation will last. More info on the air quality locally can be found here.

The Ithaca City School District announced that gym classes, recess and sports (when possible) were being moved indoors, at least for the day, in response to the air quality.

Original story (June 5):

ITHACA, N.Y.—An Air Quality Alert has been issued by the National Weather Service and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for a large swath of upstate New York that includes Tompkins County. The alert, which focuses on fine particulate matter in the air, is set to expire Tuesday (either at midnight or 10:15 a.m., depending on the agency), according to NWS.

The general public currently does not face any danger, though those with underlying health issues could face some complications.

The issue stems from wildfires near and around Nova Scotia, Canada which have raged for weeks and forced thousands to evacuate. The smoke and ash from those fires has gradually migrated as the blazes have continued, with reports surfacing last week that New York City was experiencing lower air quality and hazy conditions, similar to those that can be observed Monday around the Ithaca area.

The alert, at this point, encourages people who may have risky health conditions to be cautious while outside.

“When pollution levels are elevated, the New York State Department of Health recommends that individuals consider limiting strenuous outdoor physical activity to reduce the risk of adverse health effects,” reads the alert from the DEC. “People who may be especially sensitive to the effects of elevated levels of pollutants include the very young and those with pre-existing respiratory problems such as asthma or heart disease.”

Air Quality Index as of Monday, June 5, 2023.

Tompkins County is included in the central New York region, and there are 17 counties included in the alert. The measure of fine particles is just over the line of “unhealthy for sensitive groups” versus “moderate” air quality.

According to the DEC, the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” designation means that “members of sensitive groups may experience health effects. The general public is not likely to be affected.”

Matt Butler is the Editor in Chief of The Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.org.