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Michigan urges caution as wildfire smoke from Canada worsens air quality

 Photo of the Michigan State Capitol Building on June 28, 2023. The sky looks milky and hazy.
Arjun Thakkar
Ingham county had an air quality index ranging from unhealthy to dangerous levels on Tuesday, June 28th to Thursday June 29th.

Lee la versión en inglés aquí.

As smoke from wildfires in Canada continues to spread across the U.S., Michiganders are being urged to take precautions and minimize their time outdoors.

Michigan’s air quality has worsened in recent days, putting communities on the west and east sides of the state among the most affected in the nation, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. Much of that smoke is being driven by the wind from rampant wildfires in Canada.

Since Tuesday, the air quality indexes for Lansing, Detroit, and Grand Rapids have climbed to more than 200, a level that experts consider unhealthy.

Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s top medical executive, said it's important to keep an eye on the air quality index before heading outside.

“Take a look at those numbers and follow the guidance online," Bagdasarian said. "It could mean cutting down on the types of activities that you're doing outdoors, the amount of time you're spending outdoors, how much exertion you're doing outdoors."

She also recommended using air purifiers and air conditioning while indoors and wearing a mask outdoors when the air quality index rises above 150.

"If you are in an area where your air pollution levels are higher, or your air quality index is a little bit worse, but if you have to go outside or if you choose to go outside, you may also want to consider wearing a mask that can protect you from those very small particles," Bagdasarian said.

Bagdasarian recommended using a mask that fits tightly to the contours of the face, such as an N95 mask or a KN95 mask.

"I think this is really a topic that we haven't had to think about much in places like Michigan, and this is most likely going to be something that has to be in the back of our minds throughout the summer months as this hot weather continues and as there are more wildfires in Canada," she said.

Veterinary experts are also warning residents to limit their pets' exposure to poor air quality outdoors.

Stephen Carey specializes in chronic respiratory disorders at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He said when the air quality index is at unhealthy levels, it’s important to only allow pets outdoors in the early morning or late evening.

"If you can maximize exposures after a rain, that's when the air quality is going to be a little bit better," Carey said. "But if you have to expose your pets, predominantly indoor pets, to outside air, try to make sure that does not happen during peak hours of pollutants like the middle of the day."

Carey also suggested using a washcloth on a pet’s fur after spending time outside to minimize their exposure to toxins.

"There's another way that pets can get exposed, and that's what we call tertiary exposure. That's where particles can be, instead of directly inhaled into the respiratory system, embedded on the floor, and then cats and dogs, being meticulous groomers, will groom themselves and then they'll actually acquire oral exposures to these particulates," he explained.

According to Carey, if small animals exhibit symptoms such as dry coughing, lip licking, or watery eyes, it could indicate acute respiratory distress, which requires immediate medical attention.

As WKAR's Bilingual Latinx Stories Reporter, Michelle reports in both English and Spanish on stories affecting Michigan's Latinx community.
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