New York, Jun 8 (IANS): Smoke from raging wildfires in Canada has triggered air quality alerts in a number of US states, with the sky over New York City rapidly darkening and New York State Governor Kathy Hochul calling the development "an emergency crisis".
The air quality index in New York City reached "hazardous" levels on Wednesday afternoon, reports Xinhua news agency.
By 3 p.m., it was above 300, according to US government online platform AirNow, an air quality data site, which warned that at that level, "everyone should stay indoors and reduce activity levels".
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has extended its citywide air quality health advisory, and those who have underlying health conditions are advised to avoid outdoor activity as much as possible.
The state's Long Island and Hudson Valley are under the air quality advisory as well.
A number of cities and municipalities around the area also issued individual air quality alerts, urging residents to take precautions while cancelling some outdoor events.
In New York City and several large cities across the state, public schools have cancelled outdoor activities.
Due to the air quality, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has paused and delayed flights at certain area airports to mitigate the reduced visibility the region is experiencing.
"The FAA has taken steps to manage the flow of traffic into the New York City area due to reduced visibility from wildfire smoke," the agency said in a statement.
"Flights from the Upper Midwest and East Coast bound for LaGuardia International Airport have been paused," it noted.
"Flights to Newark Liberty International Airport have been slowed."
New York City's three library systems closed their doors at 3.30 p.m. Wednesday, a few hours earlier than normal, because of deteriorating air quality conditions, according to spokeswomen for the agencies.
The three systems have hundreds of combined locations and normally stay open until at least 6 p.m. on weekdays. Many unhoused people spend time at the city's libraries during the day.
In Brooklyn, some commuters appeared to repurpose pandemic-era masks for the walk to the subway, then removed them once they packed into air-conditioned trains.
In the Bronx, playgrounds were empty, their jungle gyms nearly obscured by the haze. In Staten Island, the Statue of Liberty was barely visible.
The worst period of hazy, unhealthy air in New York City would last from Wednesday afternoon through Thursday morning, according to a New York Times analysis of computer forecast models.
The haze would likely vary in thickness through the overnight hours and could last through the day Thursday.
According to Basil Seggos, the commissioner of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the hazy conditions in New York are likely to continue on Thursday and Friday, and potentially extend into the weekend.
"Ultimately, this is going to continue for the next few days and likely into the weekend. We'll pray for rains up north and for winds to shift."
Hospitals in New York City and elsewhere across the state said they had not seen a major uptick in emergency room visits related to the hazardous air quality conditions yet, but warned that people should continue to take precautions to avoid breathing in too many contaminants.
The fine particulate matter in the air can "get into people's lungs, cause inflammation and worsen conditions like asthma, chronic lung disease or underlying heart conditions", New York City Health Commissioner Ashwin Vasan said at a press conference Wednesday.
Older adults and children are particularly vulnerable, and people should limit their time outdoors and wear a high quality mask if they did go out, he added.