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Activities in the Princeton region move indoors as wildfire smoke prompts air quality alerts

TCNJ view froma bove
An aerial view of The College of New Jersey on Wednesday. Photo: Anthony DePrimo for TCNJ.

The National Weather Service in Mount Holly issued an air quality alert on Wednesday after the U.S. government’s air quality tracker labeled the air “hazardous.”

“The Eastern Canadian Wildfires continue to have a significant impact in our area as we have seen a thick smoke plume recently move into our region. This has led to very poor air quality and greatly reduced visibility. Satellite images show that to the northwest, there will be a slow improvement for this evening and more so tonight,” reads the weather statement. “While visibility may get somewhat better, air quality will still be at hazardous levels. For tomorrow, a slight adjustment in pattern and wind means the worst of the smoke will set up well to the west and out of the area. It still is going to be hazy with poor air quality, just not to the extent of what we are seeing today. The good news is that on Friday, it’s becoming more likely that we’ll see significant improvement in both visibility and air quality.”

Health officials are urging area residents to limit outdoor activities. School districts across the region, including the Princeton Public Schools, moved student activities such as recess indoors as the Canadian wildfires continue to cause smoke to blanket much of the Northeast.

In Princeton, all schools are holding recess and physical education classes indoors until the air quality improves. Day trips and outdoor field days have been postponed where possible.  District officials have allowed two trips to take place, requesting that the groups use as many indoor spaces as possible.  A high school group was scheduled to go to Six Flags, and an 8th-grade group was going to Hershey Park. If the air quality is purple, the groups will readjust their plans so that students remain indoors.

“There is ongoing communication with administrators on the trips and adjustments are being made as air quality updates are received,” Superintendent of Schools Carol Kelley said in an email to parents. “We will continue to monitor the quality of the air in the region, as well as consult with our schools’ physician and health officials over the next few days.”

Police in several area municipalities have urged residents to stay indoors. The South Brunswick Police Department offered the following tips to residents:

  • Sensitive populations (which includes the elderly people, infants and young children, people with lung diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or chronic bronchitis) should remain indoors
  • Individuals with asthma: Poor air quality may trigger asthma attacks.Individuals with respiratory diseases: Follow the physician’s recommendations and respiratory management plan.
  • People in general should avoid strenuous activities and limit the amount of time they are active outdoors.
  • The most effective way to prevent breathing harmful particles from wildfire smoke is to stay indoors with windows and doors closed.
  • If an air conditioner is available, run it while keeping the fresh-air intake closed and the filter clean to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside.
  • Do not vacuum, because vacuuming stirs up particles already inside your home.
  • Do not smoke tobacco or other products, because smoking puts even more pollution into the air.

Do not rely on dust masks for protection. Paper “comfort” or “dust” masks commonly found at hardware stores trap large particles, such as sawdust. These masks will not protect your lungs from smoke.