Smoky Skies: Canadian Wildfires Bring Hazards to US Communities

Canada's wildfires pollute the US and worsen inequality. Major cities have hazardous air, but marginalized populations suffer. Smoke blankets areas, requiring indoor protection. President Biden visits Chicago, raising climate change concerns.

Morgan Blackwood
Photo by Mert Alper Dervis/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
  • Smoky air from Canada's wildfires blankets broad regions of the US, exacerbating health risks for communities already impacted by industrial pollution.
  • Poor and minority communities, often located near polluting plants, face the greatest challenges due to the wildfires' impact on air quality and increased asthma risks.
  • Cities like Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland experience "very unhealthy air," while Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Louisville are also affected.
  • Drifting smoke from the wildfires extends its reach, posing health concerns for vulnerable communities in western Pennsylvania, central New York, and the Mid-Atlantic region.
  • The Canadian wildfires serve as evidence of climate change, as highlighted by President Joe Biden during his visit to Chicago to promote renewable energy policies.

Unseen Perils Blanket American Cities

Canada’s blazing wildfires blanketed large parts of the United States in a foggy cloud of smoky air, affecting states as far apart as Minnesota, New York, and Kentucky.

Warnings were issued telling people to remain indoors, increasing the danger for individuals who were already ill from exposure to industrial pollutants.

Unequal Impact on Marginalized Communities

Communities of color and the poor bear a disproportionate share of the burden of this environmental disaster since they tend to be located near polluting industrial sites and suffer from a correspondingly greater incidence of asthma.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) strongly advised all inhabitants of Detroit, a primarily Black city struggling with a poverty rate of roughly 30%, to stay inside due to the dangerously low air quality.

When Darren Riley first moved to Detroit in 2018, he was afflicted with asthma. “The act of breathing becomes an act of inhaling camp smoke and fire directly into your lungs,” he said. Too often, whole neighborhoods have to shoulder this responsibility.

These areas have endured the smoke from wildfires every day for far too long, while others have only had to deal with it once.

Unhealthy Air Grips Major Cities

As of Wednesday afternoon, “very unhealthy air” was present in a number of major cities, including Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis, and Cleveland, Ohio, according to the EPA’s website. Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Louisville, Kentucky were all included in the wider circle of impaired air quality.

Earlier this month, smoke from the wildfires blanketed the sky of the East Coast of the United States for many days.

Drifting Smoke Takes Toll on Vulnerable Communities

National Weather Service meteorologist Byran Jackson said that another wave of smoke from the wildfires was making its way across western Pennsylvania and central New York, with a path approaching the Mid-Atlantic area.

Meanwhile, in Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada meteorologist Steven Flisfeder anticipated that the smoke will spread over Quebec and Ontario over the following several days.

The smoke is making an already serious problem for low-income and Black communities that tend to be located in close proximity to polluting facilities or rental dwellings with triggers like mold even worse.

The huge refineries and factories on the southwest side of Detroit contribute to its status as one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Short-term particle pollution in Detroit is considered to be among the worst in the US, according to a 2022 assessment by the American Lung Association.


Dr. Ruma Srivastava, a pediatric pulmonologist at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, pointed out that being near such refineries is an environmental element that is difficult to prevent. The likelihood of an asthma attack occurring is raised. Air quality safety guidelines are very important for these people to adhere to.

Riley’s personal experiences with air pollution prompted him to start the nonprofit JustAir, which monitors air quality.

“Your ZIP code or the color of your skin should not determine unequal access to a healthy environment,” he said.

Disproportionate Impact on Respiratory Health

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, there has been an increase in the number of patients presenting with respiratory issues to Milwaukee County’s Emergency Medical Services.

While just 27.1% of Milwaukee County’s population is Black, the Office of Emergency Management statistics show that a disproportionate amount of calls for respiratory concerns come from Black people.

In Chicago, where Black people make up about a quarter of the population, Mayor Brandon Johnson has recommended those at risk, including children, the elderly, and those with preexisting diseases, to spend less time outside. He promised rapid action to ensure these communities had the means to defend themselves.

Climate Change and Presidential Visit

The Canadian wildfires were highlighted by Vice President Joe Biden as proof of climate change during his visit to Chicago on Wednesday to promote his renewable energy initiatives.

Minneapolis and St. Paul’s skylines were shrouded by the smoke, and the state issued its record-setting 23rd air quality warning of the year until late Wednesday night. Cities like Louisville, Kentucky, urged citizens to limit time spent outside and to avoid strenuous exercise. Similar advisories were issued in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

“This smoke is particularly dense,” National Weather Service meteorologist Jackson said.

The Canadian government estimates that the fires had destroyed an area of around 30,000 square miles (80,000 square kilometers), or about the size of South Carolina.

“While the fires burn and the smoke lingers in the atmosphere, both Canadians and Americans remain at risk,” cautioned Flisfeder, a Canadian meteorologist.

Smoke from wildfires contains tiny particles that may irritate the respiratory system, the heart, and the eyes. Limiting time spent outside has been recommended by health professionals as a means of reducing exposure to these particles.

A warming globe will contribute to more extended and severe heat waves, which in turn will cause bigger and more intense fires, which will result in smokier conditions, according to Joel Thornton, professor and head of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington.

Pursuit of Joy Amidst the Haze

Quentin Hernandez, a 24-year-old event director from Detroit, skateboarded for almost an hour on Wednesday at a local skate park near the Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, despite the dangers of the wildfire smoke.

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Morgan Blackwood is a respected crime reporter renowned for her insightful coverage of the criminal justice system. Through meticulous research and in-depth interviews, she delves into the complexities of law enforcement, courtroom drama, and the pursuit of truth. Morgan's compelling narratives provide readers with an intimate glimpse into the intricate workings of the justice system, urging society to examine its flaws and strive for a more equitable and secure future.
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