City of Detroit skyline on June 7, 2023. (BridgeDetroit photo by Orlando Bailey)

Overnight, wildfire smoke from Canada made Detroit one of the most polluted major city in the world. 

Detroit was hovering near the top of a list along with New York City, Delhi, India, and Dhaka, Bangladesh, in a pollution ranking of approximately 90 major U.S. cities, according to IQAir – an online platform that provides real-time information on air quality across the world. 

There has been a slight haze for weeks in Detroit from Canadian wildfires, but yesterday afternoon a wildfire in Ontario near Lake Huron blew up, leading to more smoke for the metro Detroit area. 

The smoke has placed Detroit’s air in the “unhealthy” category, with particulate matter pollution levels more than 16 times that of the World Health Organization’s annual air quality guidelines. 

“The air quality right now is pretty poor,” said Megan Varcie, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in White Lake Township. The poor air quality conditions and dry weather are expected to persist into the weekend. 

A state-issued air quality action day advisory is now in effect through June 8 for nearly 20 Southeast Michigan counties, including Wayne County, for “elevated levels of fine particulate.” 

“Pollutants are expected to be in the UNHEALTHY FOR SENSITIVE GROUPS range with some hourly concentrations reaching the UNHEALTHY LEVEL,” a National Weather Service air quality alert reads. 

Wildfire smoke can cause asthma attacks, fast heartbeat, shortness of breath, and it can worsen chronic lung and heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The National Weather Service issued a Special Weather Statement for smoke coverage and air quality for areas north of Detroit including the counties of Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, and Tuscola. 

“If you are someone that’s at risk and has respiratory issues, try to stay inside as much as possible,” Varcie said. 

There was a point Tuesday evening when New York City was in first place, overtaking New Delhi. Annually, the top worst cities for air pollution are in the Middle East and Asia, according to IQAir. 

Currently, the winds are coming from a northeast direction, Varcie told BridgeDetroit. 

“As we head into the weekend we’ll see those winds shift more to the west or northwest. I anticipate that as that happens we won’t have as much of that smoke,” she said. 

“We are experiencing very dry conditions,” added Varcie, advising that residents should avoid burning anything. Rain, which can decrease the impact of heavy air pollution, isn’t expected until Saturday night. 

“But if you have to, make sure that you’re watching any small fires closely and you’re not letting them get out of control because fire could spread rapidly today, given how dry it’s been.” 

In 2022, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America ranked Detroit the number one asthma capital in the country. The combination of allergy season, hot dry temperatures and now poor air quality puts people with asthma and COPD at greater risk for health complications. 

The poor air quality just, “adds to the misery,” Dr. J. Younes an allergy specialist in Lake Orion said. “If you live in a city where the air quality is not good your life expectancy in the long run is going to be shorter. 

He recommends that everyone limit outdoor activity including pumping gas and mowing their lawn while the air quality is “unhealthy.” People should stay indoors with the air conditioning running for as long as they can, he added. 

Other Michigan counties under an air quality action day advisory are: Midland, Bay, Huron, Saginaw, Tuscola, Sanilac, Shiawassee, Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Livingston, Oakland, Macomb, Washtenaw,  Lenawee and Monroe. 

While the air quality is poor because of fires that have burned more than 8 million acres in Canada so far this year, Michigan is amid a drought that also has left much of the state in extreme risk of fire.

A campfire on a private residence this weekend ignited a blaze that consumed some 3,000 acres near Grayling in Crawford County. Favorable winds kept the fire confined just a few miles outside city limits.

Northern Michigan has gone one month without rain. The forecast calls for a chance of rain this weekend and Monday, but much of Michigan is several inches below normal precipitation for this time of year.

Some cities have banned outdoor burning, but Michigan has yet to issue a statewide order.

When asked Wednesday by Bridge Michigan if she would issue such an order, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer urged caution.

“It’s been very dry. There are three days of rain in the forecast. But we know that that can change. I don’t know how much rain we’ll get so we’re monitoring it very closely,” Whitmer said.

“We know that this fire that we’re still putting out was started in an individual private campfire,” she added. “And so those individual actions can impact all of us, and that’s why we’re asking people to take this very seriously.”

Bridge Michigan Reporter Janelle D. James contributed. Come back to BridgeDetroit for more on this developing story

Jena is a BridgeDetroit's environmental reporter, covering everything from food and agricultural to pollution to climate change.

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