hazy sky in detroit
Wildfire smoke is visible in downtown Detroit on Thursday, June 29, 2023. (BridgeDetroit photo by Christine Ferretti)

The Detroit Health Department is offering guidance and respite centers to help residents minimize the effects of poor air quality from Canadian wildfires. 

Detroit’s Acting Chief Public Health Officer Christina Floyd said in a Thursday news release that the office is recommending that residents limit time and strenuous activities outdoors and wear a KN95 mask if they must be outside. The health department will partner with community organizations to provide masks to the city’s unhoused population, Floyd noted.

DHD is also encouraging residents to sign up for Detroit Alert 365 texts, emails and phone alerts for up-to-date recommendations. Residents can sign up here

The state’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) extended its air quality alert for southeast Michiigan, which includes the City of Detroit, through 12 a.m. July 1.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s Air Quality Index ranked the Detroit area air quality at unhealthy levels on Friday, especially for sensitive populations. 

“We are continually monitoring the situation and are in close contact with our partners at EGLE, the City’s Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, as well as the City’s Environmental division,” Floyd said in a news release. “As conditions warrant, we will provide additional updates and guidance to help make sure our residents stay safe.”

Currently, there are nearly 500 fires burning across Canada, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Center. Weather authorities have said as long as the wildfires are burning there’s a chance smoke could drift down to Detroit again. 

Thursday’s news release comes as Detroit and Chicago vied for the worst air quality out of 90 major U.S. cities earlier in the week. The city’s public health authorities initially alerted the public via a Facebook post Tuesday morning. It wasn’t until Wednesday morning, when the air reached the “hazardous” category that DHD issued a full press release at 9:13 a.m. Nearly two hours later, an alert was sent via the city’s 365 alert system. 

City officials canceled some outdoor activities on Wednesday, including the police chief’s regular “Walk A Mile” Wednesday events and a community celebration and ribbon cutting at a new city park was curtailed. 

The health effects of particle pollution exposure can range from relatively minor, including eye and respiratory tract irritation, to more serious effects including exacerbation of asthma, heart failure and premature death. Older adults, pregnant women, infants, children, and people with preexisting respiratory and heart conditions may be more likely to get sick if they breathe in wildfire smoke.

Floyd recommends people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children, and teens stay indoors as much as possible and keep windows and doors closed and to take part in indoor physical activities rather than outdoors and to wear protective masks when they are outdoors. 

For Detroiters without working air conditioning, the city’s recreation centers are open during normal business hours. In addition, the city’s Farwell Recreation Center, 2711 E. Outer Drive, and Adam-Butzel Recreation Center, 10500 Lyndon, are open as respite sites until 10 p.m. Thursday. 

Detroit recreation centers: 

  • Kemeny Recreation Center, 2260 S. Fort, (313) 628-2819           
  • Lasky Recreation Center, 13200 Fenelon, (313) 628-2030                           
  • Northwest Activities Center, 18100 Meyers Road, (313) 578-7500                       
  • Patton Recreation Center, 2301 Woodmere, (313) 628-2000

Masks are available for free to residents at the Detroit Health Department, located at 100 Mack Ave., and at all city recreation centers. 

This week is the second time in less than a month that Detroit’s air quality has been among the worst in the world, a city where nearly 1 in 5 residents has asthma.

For more information, please see the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy Air Quality Index page

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