Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Air quality in Pittsburgh is likely to improve this weekend

Smoke from Canadian wildfires hangs in a haze over Downtown Pittsburgh on June 7, 2023.
Jakob Lazzaro
90.5 WESA
Smoke from Canadian wildfires hangs in a haze over Downtown Pittsburgh on June 7, 2023.

Smoke from wildfires in Canada that has floated south continues to cause poor air quality throughout much of the eastern U.S., threatening the health of many Pennsylvanians.

Microscopic particles called PM2.5 — nearly 30-times smaller than the diameter of a human hair — are generated by the smoke. These tiny solids can irritate the eyes or throat. When inhaled, PM2.5 particulates can become even more hazardous: They enter a person’s bloodstream, which is especially harmful to those with pulmonary or cardiovascular conditions.

The pollution isn’t as severe in western Pennsylvania compared to other parts of the country, such as New York City, so most Pittsburghers don’t need to limit their outdoor activities, said Dr. Joe Aracri, the assistant chair of pediatrics for Allegheny Health Network. But if someone has a condition such as asthma or cystic fibrous, or is an infant who was born prematurely, Aracri advises individuals and parents to take extra precautions.

“Keep kids inside, have an air conditioner on, air filters, that kind of stuff, to try to improve the air quality around them as much as possible,” said Aracri.

If someone displays signs of irritation after being outdoors, which might be the case after heavy exercise, Aracri advises that they wash their face or shower to remove pollutants from the skin or airways. A trip to the pool is a great way to spend the day.

Part of the reason air quality in the U.S. is so impacted by the fires in Canada is because weather patterns in the lower 48 have been stagnant for a couple of weeks, explains Lee Hendricks of the National Weather Service’s Pittsburgh office.

Fortunately, these poor conditions are likely to improve as a weather system from the southwest is predicted to bring precipitation that will cleanse the air by absorbing the PM2.5 particulates.

“So, hopefully, this will help us,” said Hendricks.

There’s a 30% chance of rain forecasted for Friday night. The odds increase to 60% on Sunday and 80% on Monday.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.