June 6, 2023

Nova Scotia wildfires may cause health problems in Indiana

Hazy skies over Bloomington Sunday were caused by wildfire smoke and ozone. - George Hale / WFIU-WTIU

Hazy skies over Bloomington Sunday were caused by wildfire smoke and ozone.

George Hale / WFIU-WTIU

The National Weather Service says smoky and hazy conditions in central Indiana caused by wildfires in Canada will continue into Tuesday evening. 

Multiple wildfires in Nova Scotia have consumed an area of forest unparalleled in the province’s history, and smoke is traveling southwest across the eastern United States. 

Jonathan Raff, an IU professor who studies the chemistry of air pollution, said local weather conditions interact with wildfire smoke to worsen health outcomes for Hoosiers. 

“We didn't have a lot of wind during these higher pollution kind of episodes, and what that allows is the polluted air mass to kind of sit here and for the air pollution to just build up in intensity,” Raff said. 

Sunlight interacts with gasses from wildfires to create ozone, a gas that in high concentrations can cause adverse health effects, even from short-term exposure.  

Ozone, smoke and high temperatures may cause burning eyes and lungs, phlegm and trouble breathing. Raff said some groups are more at risk than others. 

“For older individuals or people who have already preexisting health effects [like] cardiovascular problems, it could lead to heart failure, stroke, that sort of thing,” Raff said.

Children are also particularly vulnerable to air quality issues. Air pollution can cause inflammation, weaken someone’s immune system, and can increase the risk of asthma, lung cancer or other chronic lung diseases. 

Indiana has experienced poor air quality over the past several summers as megafires became a seasonal occurrence out west.  

IDEM recommends driving less, conserving power indoors and avoiding exertion outdoors. 

Updates on air quality can be found at SmogWatch.IN.gov

Darian Benson contributed to this story.

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