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Cleveland Department of Health issues health alert due to Canadian wildfires

The Cleveland Department of Health Division of Air Quality has issued a health alert due to the wildfires in Canada and Michigan.

CLEVELAND — Following wildfires in Canada and Michigan, the Cleveland Department of Health Division of Air Quality has issued a health alert due to "elevated levels of fine particulate matter."

Cleveland began monitoring for high levels of fine particulate matter on Tuesday, with the Air Quality Index (AQI) indicating that air quality in the area may be “unhealthy." Additionally, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) has issued an Air Quality Advisory, indicating they are "forecasting an exceedance of fine particulate levels."

According to a release, the Cleveland area experienced a band of smoke come through early on Wednesday morning, which resulted in “unhealthy” levels of air pollution. The Cleveland Department of Health says that it anticipates more bands will come through the area over the next several days and that the Division of Air Quality will continue tracking particulate matter throughout this event.

Additional updates will be provided as necessary.

"I really think folks who smoke cigarettes are going to really struggle with this, I think people with asthma, people with other allergies or other just lung conditions in general are going to have a hard time right now," said Dr. David Margolius, Director of the Cleveland Department of Public Health.

According to Dr. Emily Pennington, a pulmonary physician at Cleveland Clinic, the air quality has to do with the amount of pollution in the air, in this case, coming in the form of particles too tiny to see with the human eye from the smoke from wildfires. 

"Those little tiny particles, as you breathe it in, it gets down into your lungs, down into your airways, and it causes inflammation in your airways," Pennington said. "So it's that inflammation that makes your airways almost spasm or kind of twitch, and that's what makes you feel short of breath, [makes you] feel like you have this chest tightness like you can't fully expand your lungs, it can make you cough, too." 

However, both doctors said there are things you can do to be mindful of the poor air quality.

"If you are healthy, you have no underlying lung conditions, I think the best thing that you can do is focus on what your contribution is to bad air quality," Margolius told 3News on Wednesday. "So avoid single vehicle occupancy driving, car trips on your own with a combustible engine. If you have underlying lung conditions, like if you’re a smoker, if you have emphysema or asthma, I would take it easy."

"I think especially if you have kids that already have lung disease, if they already have asthma, that this might be a time to keep them indoors and away from those outdoor activities on days like this when the air quality is really poor," said Pennington. "If they are going to be outside, even if they don't have any kind of chronic diseases, still just keep an eye on them, and if you notice they seem to be struggling more, start to cough a lot, that might be the time to cut the activity short and bring them indoors."

Pennington also recommended closing your windows, and if you do have serious underlying conditions, considering wearing a mask when going outdoors. 

With "unhealthy" air quality, CDPH recommends that individuals with heart or lung disease, older adults, children, and teens avoid strenuous outdoor activities or keep outdoor activities short. Additionally, residents are advised that they can do the following:

  • Use mass transit instead of driving.
  • Conserve fuel and reduce exhaust emissions by combining necessary motor vehicle trips.
  • Reduce or eliminate outdoor burning and attempt to minimize indoor sources of particulate matter.
  • If possible, utilize air purifying devices in the home to reduce pollutant concentrations.

Hourly updates can be found at airnow.gov. Lynna Lai has more on how you can do that:

Earlier on Wednesday, the Ohio EPA issued a statewide air quality alert. The advisory is in effect through Wednesday, with particulate levels expected to remain elevated through Thursday.

More Cleveland coverage from WKYC:

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