Americans see air quality improvements as toxic smoke clears

  • D.C. area remains in "Code Orange;" conditions still unhealthy for some
  • Biden: U.S. continues to help the effort to stop the wildfires in Canada
  • Scientists: Smoke is a wake-up call about the future

WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — Like many cities on the East Coast, Washington, D.C. has seen air quality improvements since smoke from hundreds of Canadian wildfires blanketed the region earlier this week.

However, AirNow still shows the D.C. area remains in a “Code Orange,” meaning conditions can still be unhealthy for some Americans.

The smoke from the wildfires led to incredible scenes across the Northeast.

The fires sent plumes of fine particulate matter as far away as North Carolina and northern Europe and parked clumps of air rated unhealthy or worse over the heavily populated Eastern Seaboard.

A third day of unhealthy air may have been an unnerving novelty for millions of people on the. East Coast, but it was a reminder of conditions routinely troubling the country’s West — and a wake-up call about the future, scientists say.

On Thursday, visibility was limited and the Washington Monument could barely be seen from a distance. Major League Baseball postponed games, including canceling the Washington Nationals game due to the air quality. The Smithsonian’s National Zoo also closed its doors.

Schools canceled outdoor activities — including recess and team sporting events, parks were closed and road work was suspended in some areas.

The White House even pushed back its Pride Month celebration to this weekend.

President Joe Biden told reporters the U.S. continues to help the effort to stop the wildfires in Canada and recommended that people in the states stay alert about the conditions. 

“We already have 600 American firefighters on the ground who have been there for a while in Canada including hotshots and smoke jumper crews,” Biden said. “It’s very important that affected communities listen to the guidance of their state and local officials at this point forward.”

At points this week, air quality in places including New York, the nation’s most populous city, nearly hit the top of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s air pollution scale. Local officials urged people to stay indoors as much as possible and wear face masks when they venture out.

NewsNation correspondent Tom Dempsey said that while walking to the Capitol on Thursday, his eyes stung from the unhealthy air quality and that he wore a mask as a precaution.

Officials said they expected conditions to improve heading into the weekend.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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