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The air smelled a bit smoky early Wednesday afternoon.

Air quality metrics have gradually worsened across Richland County this week, along with the rest of Ohio and numerous U.S. states, as smoke from wildfires in Canada blew southward.

Both Detroit and New York City had some of the worst air quality in the world Wednesday as a result of the blazes.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a statewide Air Quality Advisory Wednesday, stating that air quality across the state is largely unhealthy for sensitive groups and in some areas, unhealthy in general. Particulate levels are expected to remain elevated through Thursday. 

Nevertheless, local health officials say there is no immediate cause for concern in Richland County — even though the skies are a bit hazier than usual. 

When air quality is within a certain range, some people may experience adverse health effects while outdoors. Sensitive groups of people, including children, the elderly, and people with asthma or COPD, are advised to limit prolonged or strenuous outdoor activity.

The U.S. Air Quality Index tracks hourly concentrations of pollutants in the air. AQI values at or below 100 to be “generally satisfactory, according to the EPA.”

Richland County generally has good air quality. Julie Chaya, a public information officer with Richland Public Health, said the last time Richland County had an AQI above 100 was in 2010.

Chaya said Richland County residents should be aware of the slight uptick in pollution, but it’s not a cause for concern.

Richland County’s AQI did rise above 100 early Wednesday morning, but it has since dropped to a “moderate” range.

“Is it necessary going to instantly deteriorate your health? No. You just need to be alert that the air quality isn’t the best,” Chaya said. 

Chaya said residents can feel safe going outside, but those with health concerns should avoid labor-intensive outdoor activities like heavy exercise, gardening or using a gas-powered lawn mower.

People with heart problems or lung-related issues like asthma and COPD, as well as young children and elderly people, may become uncomfortable spending time outdoors. 

Those concerned about the air quality can wear an N95 mask, though Chaya said it’s not necessary with current pollutant levels. 

How do wildfires affect air quality? How are pollutants measured?

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), wildfires can increase the amount of ozone and particulate matter in the air, forming pollutants that can float through the air and impact populations far away from the blaze. 

On June 1, levels ranged from 28 to 53 AQI for particulate matter, according to the fire and smoke specific map for Mansfield. 

The AQI registered a sharp increase in pollutants Monday evening, after a series of wildfires in Quebec. Levels peaked Wednesday at 6 a.m., when the air was classified as unhealthy with an AQI of 171. Metrics have dropped steadily since then.

The wildfire pollution has been driven primarily by increased fine particulate matter — PM2.5 — in the air.

According to the U.S. EPA, particulate matter refers to a wide range of components, including acids, inorganic compounds, organic chemicals like soot, soil or dust and biological materials like pollen and mold spores. PM2.5 is particulate matter that’s 2.5 microns or smaller. 

The EPA states that the air we breathe both indoors and out will always have some particle pollution — but higher levels can be hazardous to human health. 

“You can find these kinds of particulate matter in other types of smoke like bonfire smoke,” Chaya said.

“The reason why they keep track of that one is because those particulate matter are small enough they can travel deep into your lungs.”

Interested in tracking these levels as they change? The U.S. Air Quality Index’s fire and smoke map is available here. General air quality data by region is available

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