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Air Quality

Three times during the summer of 2023, Western New York, including the Town of Aurora, experienced air quality heath advisories in the unhealthy range with a score in the 130s. The highest level that our region experienced durning this period was 230.  
An air quality index of 200 is considered "very unhealthy".


Over 25 million acres of climate change-fueled wildfires from Western Canada was the cause of these alerts. Wildfires, previously considered by many local residents to be a problem that affects the western part of the United States, has brought home the message that climate change is no longer someone else's problem. 

What's in that wildfire smoke?

Wildfire smoke is comprised of a mixture of gaseous pollutants (e.g., carbon monoxide), hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons [PAHs]), water vapor, and particle pollution. Particle pollution is of particular concern with regard to public health. Fine Particulate Matter (PM) consists of tiny solid particles or liquid droplets in the air that are 2.5 micrometers or less in diameter.

  • Larger particles are filtered though the nose, but fine particles enter our lungs.

  • Exposure can cause short-term health effects such as irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and shortness of breath.

  • Elevated levels of PM can also worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease.

  • People with heart or breathing problems, children, and the elderly are particularly vulnerable.

Harmful effects of ozone 

Extreme heat events create high levels of ozone, a powerful oxidant that can irritate & constrict the airways in our lungs causing: 

  • Wheezing and shortness of breath 

  • Coughing &sore or scratchy throat.

  • Make it more difficult to breathe deeply

  • Cause pain when taking a deep breath.

  • Inflame and damage the airways.

  • Make the lungs more susceptible to infection.

  • Aggravate lung diseases such as asthma, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis & Increase the frequency of asthma attacks

  • Long-term exposure to ozone is linked to aggravation of asthma, and is likely to be one of many causes of asthma development. Studies in locations with elevated concentrations also report associations of ozone with deaths from respiratory causes.

(Source: US EPA Health Effects of Ozone; US EPA Why Wildfire Smoke is a Health Concern)

The following chart shows how air quality degradation (from wildfires, allergens, temperature etc.) attributed to climate change can impact your health (American Public Health Association, 2020)

This can be a public health concern in regions not previously experienced in dealing with such events (American Public Health Association, 2020; Hamstead et al., 2018; Jacob and Winner, 2009).

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