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Smoky air will return to New York state, officials warn

Unhealthy and hazardous air quality in downtown Binghamton earlier this month.
Unhealthy and hazardous air quality in downtown Binghamton earlier this month.

State officials are again warning that unhealthy, smoky air from multiple wildfires burning in Canada will drift over New York this week.

Gov. Kathy Hochul said Tuesday that weather patterns will bring the smoke back over the state, beginning in western and central New York on Wednesday, and drifting into eastern New York and the downstate region by Thursday.

“We're expecting the numbers literally tomorrow across the state to be in the unhealthy range, and they'll reach hazardous levels in much of our state,” Hochul said.

State environmental and health officials recommend wearing an N95 or KN95 mask when exercising or doing work outdoors. They also say people with lung- or heart-related issues like asthma and congestive heart failure should take special precautions when the air quality index is 100 or higher. When the number is above 150, everyone should avoid strenuous outdoor activities.

Hochul also advised downloading the AirNow.Gov app or going to its website and signing up for email or text alerts. The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation website is also monitoring air quality levels.

“If you want to know the effects of climate change, you're going to feel it tomorrow in real time. This is not something that we're talking about future generations dealing with it,” Hochul said. “We are truly the first generation to feel the real effects of climate change. And we're also the last generation to do anything meaningful about it.”

Hochul updated New Yorkers on the air quality while in Manhattan, where she announced the start of the first-in-the-nation congestion pricing for midtown. The controversial measure is aimed at reducing vehicle exhaust that leads to global warming.

“We’re prescribing a decongestant,” she said.

Other cities, including London and Stockholm, have already implemented congestion pricing policies. Hochul said exhaust fumes in those cities have been reduced by as much as 20%.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of public radio stations in New York state. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.