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EPA Prepares Great Lakes Region for Summer Wildfire Smoke

June 27, 2024

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended residents in the Great Lakes region to be prepared for wildfire smoke this summer. The EPA advised residents to stay informed about local air quality and put plans in place to reduce their exposure to wildfire smoke and protect their health.

 “Although big wildfires may be hundreds—if not thousands—of miles away, recent years have taught us that we need to be ready for severe smoke in the Great Lakes region,” said Debra Shore, EPA regional Administrator. “Knowing what you can do to reduce smoke exposure helps families breathe easier and stay healthy.”

Summer wildfires in the U.S. and Canada are becoming bigger and more frequent, the EPA cautioned. Last summer, Canada experienced a record number of wildfires, producing smoke that caused unhealthy air quality and led to widespread health advisories across the Great Lakes region and the entire U. S. Already this year, wildfires in western Canada prompted air quality alerts and warning across several states, as CMM previously reported.

The EPA suggested the following steps to safeguard from smoke and air pollution during a wildfire:

  • If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay indoors with closed windows, seek shelter with friends or relatives, or at a local public building with air conditioning such as a movie theater, mall, library, or local clean air shelter.
  • Keep a supply of N95 or P100 respirators to wear if you go outside when air quality is unhealthy. Respirators can help prevent the inhalation of soot and fine particles in smoke.
  • Consider buying a portable air cleaner (avoid technologies that generate ozone) or make a DIY air cleaner.
  • Learn how to adjust your HVAC system or air conditioner to keep smoke out, and consider buying a high-efficiency (e.g., MERV-13) HVAC filter.
  • Replace filters according to manufacturer recommendations, typically every 60-90 days or earlier if they are heavily soiled.
  • Ensure children, older adults, pregnant people, and people with asthma or other lung or heart conditions have at least five days’ worth of medication and food on hand to avoid going outside.
  • People with asthma or other lung or heart conditions may consider developing a medical action plan in consultation with a healthcare provider along with an evacuation plan if heavy smoke persists for several days.

EPA offers resources for the public to monitor air quality conditions and forecasts in real time. The AirNow Fire and Smoke map provides information on fire locations, smoke plumes, near real-time air quality, and protective actions to take. Air quality alerts can be accessed through EnviroFlash, the AirNow website, and the AirNow app. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommends following the Air Quality Index (AQI). Additionally, states often provide air quality websites and detailed local information and forecasts.

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