Air quality ‘very unhealthy’ in Watertown Wednesday, advisory in effect through Thursday

Published: Jun. 7, 2023 at 8:15 AM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - Air quality in the eastern Lake Ontario region has reached a level that forecasters say is “very unhealthy.”

The AQI — or air quality index — was recorded at 211 at noon Wednesday. The 201 mark is the threshold for what is considered very unhealthy.

As of 5 p.m., the AQI for Watertown dropped to 105, considered unhealthy for sensitive groups.

There’s an advisory in effect for the eastern Lake Ontario region until 11:59 p.m. Thursday. It’s because of smoke blowing into the north country from Canadian wildfires.

Experts say people — especially the very young or those with heart and lung conditions — should limit their outdoor activities as much as possible.

There’s no state advisory for St. Lawrence County. However, the AQI in Potsdam, for example, was 107 at 5 p.m., unhealthy for sensitive groups. That’s the same level calculated for Lowville at the same time.

Under 50 is considered “good,” 51-100 is “moderate,” from 101 to 150 is “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” 151 to 200 is “unhealthy,” 201 to 300 is “very unhealthy,” and above that is “hazardous.”

Clarkson University Professor Suresh Dhaniyala told 7 News on Tuesday that air quality in northern New York is generally in the 30s.

On Wednesday, people were feeling the effects.

“I felt like yesterday and today I had a headache. I think it was from breathing in that smoke. It bothered me,” said Kristen Lake, who was visiting the Watertown Farmers Market.

In the morning, Watertown’s skyline was even less visible than Tuesday and a few vendors decided not to attend the farmers market due to the smokey skies. That said, the site still saw ample traffic.

“We used to live in the west it’s common for there. So I feel sorry for the folks that have breathing problems who try to get out and about because it’s no good,” said Kit Purington who was visiting the market.

The air quality even disrupted some outdoor work Although construction proceeded as usual, the conditions caused landscapers with A Cut Above to end their day early.

“Boss just said we could get to go home because a couple of our guys are having trouble breathing, coughing up a lung. So they decided to send us home instead of keeping us out here in these conditions,” said Caleb Finneran, landscaper for A Cut Above.

Although the symptoms may seem concerning, St. Lawrence Health pulmonologist Dr. Frederic Seifer says folks without underlying conditions shouldn’t have to worry about the smoke.

“Yes you may feel cruddy but you will get over it. There will be no permanent sequelae period. I wouldn’t really change the way you live your life,” he said.

But for those with heart issues and lung issues like asthma, the conditions could be dangerous.

“They should take this seriously. The counts are high. The best thing to do is to stay inside and wait it out,” said Dr. Seifer.

For people with underlying conditions who do have to go outside, Dr. Seifer’s recommendation is to wear either an N95 mask or KN95 mask. Since the particles are so small, standard cloth masks will be ineffective.