MOUNT VERNON — Knox County residents woke up to hazy skies once again Thursday, as the area’s air quality continues to suffer amid Canada’s historic wildfire season.

AirNow, which partners with the federal government to track air quality across the U.S., characterized the air quality in Knox County as “unhealthy” as of 9 a.m. Thursday.

This marked an improvement from 8 a.m., when the air quality in southern, western and central Knox County was labeled as “very unhealthy” and the air quality in northeastern Knox County was characterized as “unhealthy.”

Ohio air quality 8 a.m. June 29

There are six levels of air quality listed on AirNow’s website.

“Unhealthy” is the third-worst. It means the area’s Air Quality Index (AQI) – a measure used by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to gauge air quality – is between 151 and 200.

Mount Vernon’s AQI at 9 a.m. Thursday was 197. That number held true for Centerburg, Fredericktown, Gambier and Howard as well. Danville’s AQI was 196 at the time.

“Very unhealthy” is the second-worst level. It means the area’s AQI is between 201 and 300. Mount Vernon’s AQI reached 214 on Thursday at 8 a.m.

Air quality levels

It’s been a historically poor week for air quality in central Ohio, as smoke from Canadian wildfires has continued to affect the Midwest.

AQI readings in central Ohio climbed into the “unhealthy” level for the first time since August 2003 on Wednesday, according to the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC).

“As a cold front departs Ohio, westerly to northwesterly winds will transport dense smoke from Canadian wildfires into the Columbus region, increasing particle levels,” MORPC stated at the time.

And conditions only worsened overnight.

Columbus’ AQI reached 220 at 5 a.m. Thursday. It would eventually climb to 244 at 7 a.m. before dropping down below 200 later that morning. Andrew Buck Michael, a meteorologist with ABC 6, tweeted this was “the highest (AQI) reading ever recorded in central Ohio in the database that goes back to 1999.”

The previous high was 208, he tweeted, set on Oct. 14, 1999.

Conditions improved throughout the morning Thursday. Michael indicated that trend is expected to continue.

“Winds out of the south are already (very slowly) improving our air quality,” the meteorologist tweeted at 11 a.m. Thursday. “Better tomorrow.”

WHAT DO DO: When a community’s air quality is “unhealthy,” residents are encouraged to take steps to reduce exposure.

“Some members of the general public may experience health effects; members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects,” AirNow’s website states.

People with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teens are encouraged to do the following:

— Avoid strenuous outdoor activities

— Keep outdoor activities short.

— Consider moving physical activities indoors or rescheduling them.

Everyone else is encouraged to:

— Choose less strenuous activities (like walking instead of running) so you don’t breathe as hard.

— Shorten the amount of time you are active outdoors.

— Be active outdoors when air quality is better.

The Ohio EPA announced Thursday at 9 a.m. that it would be extending its statewide Air Quality Advisory throughout the day. The agency first issued the advisory on Wednesday morning, as AQI readings across the state began to turn red.

“Ohio EPA is continuing the statewide Air Quality Advisory today as smoke from Canadian wildfires continues to adversely impact air quality. The advisory is extended through Thursday, June 29,” the EPA said in a statement.

“Ohio EPA expects the Air Quality Index to be in the ‘unhealthy for sensitive groups’ to ‘very unhealthy’ ranges. When air quality is in the very unhealthy range, all people may experience health effects and should limit outside exposure when possible.”

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