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Wildfires raging in Canada are causing 'code red' air quality in cities across the U.S. — here's how to protect your lungs

The wildfires in Canada are getting more frequent and intense because our planet is overheating.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

More than 400 wildfires are raging across Canada, 239 of which were considered "out of control," as of June 7. But it's not just Canadians feeling the aftereffects of the fires.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, much of the Canadian wildfire smoke is "being swept up" by a weather system, which is moving it across the U.S.

What's happening?

Vast swaths of the eastern and central U.S. are experiencing terrible air quality, with New York City seeing the worst air quality of any major city worldwide as of 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time on June 7. 

Screenshot: IQAir

The air in New York City, which can be described as "hazardous," is a disturbing orange color and smells like "burnt toast." Due to the conditions, several flights have been grounded, and numerous other citywide activities have been shut down.

Meanwhile, Philadelphia is operating under "code red" conditions due to poor air quality. This means the smoke particles could prompt vulnerable people to experience serious health problems. Forecasts show that thick smoke would plague Pittsburgh by Thursday, June 8, the New York Times reported.

The dust and smoke from these wildfires can harm our lungs and our hearts. Brett Palm, a National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist, told NBC News that "these are the particles that are small enough to breathe in and can cause cardiovascular issues." 

Connecting the dots

The wildfires in Canada, and their resulting smoke, are getting more frequent and intense because our planet is overheating. Burning dirty energy sources like gas, oil, and coal directly causes this overheating. 

Climate-fueled wildfires will continue and worsen if dirty energy giants continue to fill our skies with enormous amounts of pollution.

By incorporating clean energy into our lives and society, we can reduce the impacts of our warming world. For example, powering your home with abundant, clean solar energy can lower both your energy bills and your environmental footprint.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) also provides thousands of dollars to American families when they make eco-friendly home upgrades. This IRA savings calculator can show you exactly how much money you can save.

Similarly, advocating for the adoption of clean energy and supporting political climate champions can promote change at every government level. 

How to stay safe when the air is unhealthy

Besides staying indoors away from unhealthy air, there are many actionable steps you can take to protect yourself from wildfire smoke. 

One step is to buy an air purifier or HEPA filter. These filters can clean your home's air when wildfire smoke is blanketing the area. To ensure your indoor air quality stays healthy, avoid smoking, burning candles, vacuuming, or frying food, all of which can add to the already precarious air quality situation.

If you can't afford a fancy filter, there are cheaper options, like building a DIY air filter. These "Corsi-Rosenthal" filters are made with box fans and can lower how much you'll need to spend to improve indoor air quality.

Make sure your A/C is set to "recirculate mode" so that unhealthy air stays outside. This will only be necessary if your cooling system uses fresh air intake.

Stay updated on the air quality by regularly checking AirNow.gov, which will tell you when the air outside is unsafe.

Stock up on N95 or P100 masks, which can reduce the smoke particles you breathe.

Lastly, talk to your family and friends about the overheating of our planet and the players causing it, which experts say is the most important thing you can do to inspire people to act. 

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