Gov. Phil Murphy and members of his administration warned the most vulnerable of residents to continue to take precautions due to the poor air quality resulting from Canadian wildfires.
New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli advised residents to stay indoors until the Air Quality Action Day for Particulate Matter is lifted. If New Jerseyans have to venture outside or need to work, it is recommended that a mask be worn and noted children are more at risk than adults because they breathe more air relative to their body weight.
“What we have seen is unprecedented,” Murphy said June 8. “The widespread nature and uncommonly high levels of fine particulate concentrations reaching the unhealthy category is of historic magnitude. And poor air quality impacts everyone.”
Schools Closed, Playoff Games Delayed
Air conditions caused the Newark school system to close school June 8. Schools in North Jersey that had an early dismissal included Clifton, Manchester Regional, Montclair, Wallington, Wayne and West Orange. Murphy said it “was not a lever that we would likely pull” in closing schools, allowing local districts to make those decisions.
Additionally, state high school playoff games in baseball, softball and lacrosse for both boys and girls were pushed back to June 9. If conditions do not improve, the games would be played Sunday, June 11.
10 Million Acres on Fire
Officials said the thick stench of smoke that enveloped New Jersey on Wednesday is expected to continue to improve Thursday and should be mostly gone by Friday. But residents are in for another day of dangerously bad air quality. Air quality readings well above 200 continued across the state Thursday morning. Readings above from 100-200 are considered “unhealthy” with readings above 200 described as “very unhealthy.”
For those looking for real-time updates, authorities pointed residents to AirNow.gov, which gathers fire-and-smoke monitoring data from agencies across the state and nation to keep the public informed as the wildfires continue to burn.
Murphy said he talked with Canadian officials yesterday for an update on the 10 million acre fire that is causing the poor air quality. Significant portions of the fire are still not under controlled.
“The scale of this is extraordinary…they believe it will go up to 12 million. There are over 200 separate fires with 170 of them out of control,” said Murphy.
NJDEP extended the Air Quality Action Day to Friday as well and said the air clearing depends on “the wind and the weather” with poor conditions will continue at minimum for Thursday and Friday. The state is making available free N95 masks at high volume hubs along the New Jersey Transit line, including Hoboken, Newark and Secaucus.
Persichilli noted that there had been a spike in hospital visits by patients with asthma, the highest in two months.
The governor noted while conditions would improve throughout the day, the hazy and density would return again later in the afternoon.
Murphy continued to link the air quality issues with climate change, offering that “climate change is here and it is our new reality. That disturbing orange hazy in the sky, that smell of smoke and that burning in our throats, those are clear warning signs that the status quo can not continue. It only hardens our resolve to aggressively pursue the bold action that our climate reality demands.”
Later, Murphy explained that the climate crisis has lengthened the forest fire season, going from a couple of months a year to four to five with the expectation it will continue to widen in the future.
“The reality is that temperatures are going up, storms are more frequent and intense, including more thunder and lightning, we are getting more densely populated than before,” he said. “When you add up that intensity, frequency and a longer runway each calendar year, that leads to bad things happening in the environment.”