Dr. Alistair Hayden discusses region's poor air quality and broader impact

Dr. Alistair Hayden, assistant professor of practice of Public and Ecosystem Health at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, discusses the impacts of Canada's wildfires in the Ithaca region and New York state, noting how current weather patterns are blowing smoke plumes down into the Northeast. "We're actually experiencing some of the worst outdoor air quality that there is in the world right now," he says.

Hayden notes that one of the main harmful components of wildfire smoke are small particles called PM2.5, which stands for "particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns." These tiny particulates can enter the bloodstream if inhaled, spreading throughout the body and causing a variety of health impacts.

"The best way to protect yourself from wildfire smoke is to go inside and close the doors and windows," Hayden says, going on to note that people should also use air purifiers and replace air filters on central air systems.

If being outside is unavoidable, he says that wearing a tight-fitting N95 mask is best, but also that communities should consider setting working standards where outdoor workers aren't asked to do work in certain environmental conditions.

"As we're seeing with the current wildfire smoke spreading across the whole East Coast, this is really upending the conventional notions of who's at risk of wildfires," Hayden says. "We all know that where there's fire, there's smoke, and now we need policy to match that observation that we all have. There's a lot of work that we can do from the local up to the national level to save lives and protect businesses from not just wildfire flames, but also from wildfire smoke. And that's work that colleagues and I here at Cornell University are doing."