You may want to pull out your K-N95 mask if you head outside. Northern Virginia’s air quality started the morning out at a hazardous level, but by 11 a.m. had dropped to very unhealthy.
At 8:30 a.m., the entire DC region was under a Code Maroon, the highest level of air pollution. At 11 am., it was in the Code Purple range, or very unhealthy.
During a Code Maroon, “everyone should stay indoors and reduce activity levels,” according to AirNow, an Environmental Protection Agency site that gathers data from the the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, DC’s Department of Energy and Environment, Maryland’s Department of the Environment, and the EPA’s Office of Atmospheric Protection.
The Air Quality Index ranges from zero to 500. Code Maroon starts at 301. At 8 a.m., it had reached 313, according to AirNow. It was down to 273 at noon.
In describing the air quality, AirNow’s website said a Code Maroon is a “Health warning of emergency conditions: everyone is more likely to be affected.”
The EPA has an Air Quality Index for five air pollutants: ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide.
The dimished air quality Northern Virginia is experiencing is particle pollution. It can be blamed on the wildfires in Quebec and Nova Scotia that are sending fine particulate matter over the eastern U.S., according to The Associated Press. More than 400 fires are burning in Canada.
Learn more about what a wildfire is, from the National Science Foundation:
“Widespread smoke from Canadian wildfires continue to bring hazardous air quality levels across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, including major metro areas along the I-95 corridor,” said the National Weather Service.
The smoke has reduced visibility for airplanes. The Federal Aviation Administration said it will likely need to take steps additional steps to manage air traffic safety into the Dulles International and Reagan National airports.
Reduced visibility from wildfire smoke will continue to impact air travel today. We will likely need to take steps to manage the flow of traffic safely into New York City, DC, Philadelphia and Charlotte.— The FAA ✈️ (@FAANews) June 8, 2023
Follow us here for major updates & monitor https://t.co/smgdqJN3td.
Earlier in the morning, the air quality had been a Code Purple. An interactive map of the region showed the Code Purple extending south past Fredericksburg, west to Warrenton, east to Chesapeake Bay, and north into Maryland.
Yesterday, I showed you Code Red. Today, it’s a view of Code Purple & Maroon! Where I could make out the monuments across the Potomac yesterday, now the river’s completely obscured & it’s hard to see the Pentagon just across I-395.@capitalweather @ARLnowDOTcom #WildfireSmoke pic.twitter.com/Og5SJK2V7C— Dave Statter (@STATter911) June 8, 2023
Under a Code Purple, people with heart or lung disease, older adults, children, and teens should:
- Avoid physical activities outdoors.
While others should:
- Avoid strenuous outdoor activities.
- Keep outdoor activities short.
- Consider moving physical activities indoors or rescheduling them.
Arlington County’s Department of Parks and Recreation on Thursday canceled all outdoor activities. Fairfax County Public Schools on Thursday canceled all outdoor activities.
Alexandria City Public Schools moved activities indoors Thursday. “The well-being of our students and staff is our utmost priority, and we are taking necessary precautions to ensure their safety. While all schools will continue normal operations at this time, as a precaution and in accordance with ACPS policy, all physical education classes and recess will be held indoors,” said Marcia Jackson, chief of student services and equity with ACPS.
A Code Orange, which indicates the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive groups, is expected for Friday.
Feature image courtesy Colleen Kelleher
For more stories like this, subscribe to Northern Virginia Magazine’s News newsletter.