Wildfire smoke causes air quality alert in Metro Detroit Tuesday: What to do

Air to range from unhealthy to unhealthy for some

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - JUNE 06: The sun over New York City takes on a red appearance on a hazy morning resulting from Canadian wildfires on June 06, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) (Spencer Platt, 2023 Getty Images)

DETROIT – An air quality alert is in effect Tuesday in Metro Detroit as more wildfire smoke drifts down from Canada.

An air quality alert has been issued for Tuesday, June 27, across Southeast Michigan and much of the state. The National Weather Service says wildfire smoke originating in Quebec is impacting the Upper Peninsula, and will drift south into the Lower Peninsula Tuesday.

Pollutants in the air are expected to be in the “unhealthy for sensitive groups” range -- meaning for children, elderly adults, and those with lung diseases, including asthma. However, conditions will worsen into the “unhealthy” range at times Tuesday, which can affect anyone.

People can avoid the poor air quality by limiting time outdoors, especially time being active, and keeping windows closed. The NWS encourages people to “run central air conditioning with MERV-13 or higher rated filters,” if possible.

People are also urged to avoid activities that contribute to air pollution, such as outdoor burning.

Air quality alerts often occur in the warmer months when hot temperatures combine with pollutants to create “bad ozone.” Temperatures are only expected to rise into the low 70s on Tuesday, however. This alert is primarily due to wildfire smoke.

Staying safe amid air quality alert

Follow these simple tips to stay safe when there is an air quality alert:

  • Stay inside if possible, particularly if you have respiratory concerns or other health problems, are a senior or child.
  • If you must go out, try to limit the amount of time you are out to strictly essential activities.
  • Minimize your use of items that increase pollution, such as cars, gas powered lawn mowers and other vehicles.
  • Do not burn debris or other items during an air quality alert.
  • Take the bus, carpool, telecommute, bike, or walk. You’ll reduce traffic congestion and air pollution as well as save money.
  • If you plan to barbecue, use an electric starter or charcoal chimney instead of lighter fluid. Fumes from the fluid contribute to ozone formation.
  • Avoid drive-thru facilities or other situations where your vehicle idles for an extended period of time. You’ll save money on gas and reduce pollution.
  • Stay Informed. Listen to NOAA Weather Radio or your favorite weather news station.

Who is most at risk?

Several groups of people are particularly sensitive to ozone, especially when they are active outdoors. This is because ozone levels are higher outdoors, and physical activity causes faster and deeper breathing, drawing more ozone into the body.

  • People with lung diseases, such as asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema, can be particularly sensitive to ozone. They will generally experience more serious health effects at lower levels. Ozone can aggravate their diseases, leading to increased medication use, doctor and emergency room visits, and hospital admissions.
  • Children, including teenagers, are at higher risk from ozone exposure because they often play outdoors in warmer weather when ozone levels are higher, they are more likely to have asthma (which may be aggravated by ozone exposure), and their lungs are still developing.
  • Older adults may be more affected by ozone exposure, possibly because they are more likely to have pre-existing lung disease.
  • Active people of all ages who exercise or work vigorously outdoors are at increased risk.
  • Some healthy people are more sensitive to ozone. They may experience health effects at lower ozone levels than the average person even though they have none of the risk factors listed above. There may be a genetic basis for this increased sensitivity.

In general, as concentrations of ground-level ozone increase, more people begin to experience more serious health effects. When levels are very high, everyone should be concerned about ozone exposure.

What are the health effects?

Ozone affects the lungs and respiratory system in many ways. It can:

  • Irritate the respiratory system, causing coughing, throat soreness, airway irritation, chest tightness, or chest pain when taking a deep breath.
  • Reduce lung function, making it more difficult to breathe as deeply and vigorously as you normally would, especially when exercising. Breathing may start to feel uncomfortable, and you may notice that you are taking more rapid and shallow breaths than normal.

The risk of exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone is greatest during warmer months. Children, who often play outdoors in warmer weather, are at higher risk.

  • Inflame and damage the cells that line the lungs. Within a few days, the damaged cells are replaced and the old cells are shed—much like the way your skin peels after sunburn. Studies suggest that if this type of inflammation happens repeatedly, lung tissue may become permanently scarred and lung function may be permanently reduced.
  • Make the lungs more susceptible to infection. Ozone reduces the lung’s defenses by damaging the cells that move particles and bacteria out of the airways and by reducing the number and effectiveness of white blood cells in the lungs.
  • Aggravate asthma. When ozone levels are unhealthy, more people with asthma have symptoms that require a doctor’s attention or the use of medication. Ozone makes people more sensitive to allergens—the most common triggers for asthma attacks. Also, asthmatics may be more severely affected by reduced lung function and airway inflammation. People with asthma should ask their doctor for an asthma action plan and follow it carefully when ozone levels are unhealthy.
  • Aggravate other chronic lung diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis. As concentrations of ground-level ozone increase, more people with lung disease visit doctors or emergency rooms and are admitted to the hospital.
  • Cause permanent lung damage. Repeated short-term ozone damage to children’s developing lungs may lead to reduced lung function in adulthood. In adults, ozone exposure may accelerate the natural decline in lung function that occurs with age.


About the Authors:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.

Ken Haddad has proudly been with WDIV/ClickOnDetroit since 2013. He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters, and helps lead the WDIV Insider team. He's a big sports fan and is constantly sipping Lions Kool-Aid.