Exposure to Smoke from Fires

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View over town showing orange skies filled with smoke and haze.

Wildfires Affecting New York State

Wildfires in Canada and other parts of the United States can affect air quality in New York State. You can check current air quality at airnow.gov and follow the tips below when air quality is unhealthy.

AQI Basics for Particle Pollution
Air Quality Index Who is at risk? What to do?
Green: 0 to 50 Good Air quality is good. It's a great day to be outside.
Yellow: 51 to 100 Moderate People unusually sensitive to air pollution. Air quality is acceptable. Consider making outdoor activities shorter and less intense. If you are coughing or have shortness of breath take it easier.
Everyone else: It's a good day to be active outside.
Orange: 101 to 150 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups Sensitive (at-risk) group: people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teens, pregnant people and those who exercise or work outdoors. Sensitive group: Make outdoor activities shorter and less intense. Take more breaks. Keep medicine handy.
Everyone else is less likely to be affected.
Red: 151 to 200 Unhealthy Everyone Sensitive group: Avoid long or intense outdoor activities. Consider rescheduling or moving activities indoors.
Everyone else: Reduce long or intense outdoor activities. Take more breaks.
Purple: 201 to 300 Very Unhealthy Everyone: Health Alert Sensitive groups: Avoid all physical activity outdoors. Reschedule or move activities indoors.
Everyone else: Avoid long or intense outdoor activities. Consider rescheduling or moving activities indoors.
Maroon: 301-500 Hazardous Everyone: Health Warning Everyone: Avoid all outdoor physical activities.
Sensitive groups: Keep activity levels low at home.

Contact a health care provider if you have symptoms like shortness of breath, heart palpitations, or unusual fatigue.

When Air Quality is Unhealthy

  • Spend more time indoors. This is especially important for at-risk groups (“sensitive groups”), like children and teenagers, older adults, people with heart or respiratory problems, pregnant people, and those who exercise or work outdoors.
  • If it gets hot inside, cool off with air conditioning if you can. Find a place to get cool.
  • People who must spend time outdoors should consider wearing a mask (use the best well-fitting face mask you have on hand. A N95 or KN95 will work best), take frequent breaks, and adjust work or exercise schedules for when air conditions improve.
  • People with any symptoms should contact their health care provider.
  • Get the latest air quality conditions by visiting DEC's air quality forecast website or airnow.gov.

Filtering Air at Home

  • If you have one, consider using an air cleaner. This can greatly reduce indoor air particle levels.
  • Window or portable air conditioners are good to use if they recirculate air (check your user’s manual).
  • You can run stand-alone fans to recirculate air in the home, but avoid using whole house fans because they draw in air from outside.
  • If you have a central air conditioning and heating system, set the system to “on” so air is constantly filtered, rather than “auto,” which intermittently runs the system.
  • Consider installing a high-efficiency filter (MERV 13 rating or higher) if your system can handle it based on the manufacturer’s recommendation.
  • When outdoor air quality is good, you can open windows and doors and use fans to bring in fresh air.


  • Long work schedules and the physical demands of work performed outdoors can affect a worker’s health when air quality is unhealthy. Take frequent breaks and talk to your employer about adjusting your work until air quality improves. Follow advice from NIOSH.

Schools and Child Care Providers

  • Continue to monitor air quality at DEC's air quality forecast website or airnow.gov.
  • Consider implementing an Air Quality Flag Program where your organization raises a flag for the day when the air is unhealthy. On these days you can use this information to adjust outdoor activities.
  • New York State recommends that schools and child care providers suspend outdoor activities and field trips when air quality is unhealthy.
  • Children who spend time outdoors should wear a well-fitting face mask.
  • When air quality is good, you can resume normal activities; masking is not necessary.

More About Health Risks

The smoke from any fire (forest, brush, crop, structure, tires, waste or wood burning) releases particles and chemicals when carbon-containing materials burns. All smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and particulate matter (PM or soot). Smoke can also contain different chemicals, like aldehydes, acid gases, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals, and dioxins. The particles and chemicals in smoke varies depending on what is burning, how much oxygen is available, and the temperature.

Everyone should avoid smoky areas and limit physical exertion when high levels of smoke can’t be avoided. People with cardiovascular or respiratory conditions like asthma, young children, and older adults may be more at risk of health effects from smoke. If you must be exposed to smokey conditions for long periods of time, proper use of respiratory protection will reduce exposure to the fine particles and gases in smoke.

Inhaling smoke for a short time can cause immediate effects. Smoke irritates the eyes, nose, and throat, and its odor can be nauseating. Studies show that some people exposed to heavy smoke have temporary changes in lung function that makes breathing more difficult. People can also have changes in heart function.  Carbon monoxide and small particles are two common substances in smoke responsible for these health effects.

Inhaling carbon monoxide decreases the body's oxygen supply and causes headaches, reduces alertness, and aggravates a heart condition known as angina. Fine particles from smoke (fine particulate matter, or PM 2.5) can travel deeply into the respiratory tract, reaching the lungs. Inhaling fine particles can cause a variety of health effects, like respiratory irritation and shortness of breath. It can also worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. Physical exertion can make these health effects worse. Once exposure stops, symptoms may last for a couple of days, but will likely improve.

Anyone with symptoms from smoke or bad air quality should contact their health care provider. You may also want to talk with a health care provider about your health risk when smokey air or poor air quality cannot be avoided.

Exposure to smoke can also increase your risk for long-term (chronic) health effects. People who live in areas with higher fine particulate air pollution and those who breathe air containing fine particles over long periods have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality. Frequent exposure to smoke even for brief periods can also increase your risk for long-term health effects. Scientists have studied the risk of long-term health effects in firefighters who frequently breathe smoke. Some of these show a higher rate of cancer, lung disease, and cardiovascular disease, while others do not.

More Information


  • Health advice: btsa@health.ny.gov or 518-402-7800
  • Worker advice: boh@health.ny.gov or 518 402-7900
  • Worker advice: boh@health.ny.gov or 518 402-7900
  • New York State Air Quality Hotline: (800) 535-1345