Unhealthy Air Conditions Sweep Across Midwest

Annabel Rocha

Following a week of unhealthy air quality that spread throughout the Midwest, The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has issued an Air Quality Advisory through Friday.

This is an extension of an advisory originally issued on Tuesday due to smoke traveling from an outbreak of wildfires across Canada. Smoky, hazy skies have swept over Wisconsin, Iowa, Michigan and Illinois. Chicago reportedly had the worst air quality in the world on Tuesday.

“The state of Wisconsin is experiencing a historic air quality event and is currently observing some of the highest concentrations of particulate air pollution on record,” DNR outreach coordinator Craig Czarnecki said. “This is the worst air quality we’ve seen since 1999.”

Air Quality Index is used to measure air safety. A reading above 100 may be hazardous to those with respiratory conditions, and an index above 200 is labeled “unhealthy” for everyone. According to the New York Times, Chicago’s index reached 209 on Tuesday, with Green Bay’s measuring at 175.

63 of the state’s counties are affected by the advisory, with Milwaukee and Waukesha counties remaining among the least healthy on Wednesday.

DNR recommends avoiding or limiting outdoor activity, wearing an N-95 mask when outside, keeping doors and windows closed and running air conditioners on recirculate. 

For construction workers, farmers, first responders and other laborers, remaining indoors is not an option. Electrician Matt Hulbert told Fox 6 that he’s used to working with the elements, but felt the effects of the smoke this week.

“Later in the day, you know, I could feel it in my chest,” said Hulbert. “It felt like you smoked a bunch of cigarettes.”

Hispanics currently hold almost one-third of U.S. construction positions and account for 51% of dairy production labor, making the Hispanic-Latino population especially affected by air conditions.

According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, there are currently 500 active fires across Canada, 241 of which were considered out of control at the time of publication. And while this isn’t uncommon for this time of year, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports that the last time an air quality alert was issued due to Canadian wildfires was in 2011. So far this year there have been nine.

“Getting smoke around here is not unusual, but typically it stays aloft and it doesn’t result in the type of conditions that we have had,” National Weather Service meteorologist Paul Collar said. “There’s no guarantees that we’re out of the woods. But having a more typical summertime, upper air pattern will certainly help our cause.”

For real-time updates of Wisconsin’s air quality, use DNR’s Wisconsin’s Air Quality Monitoring Data website.