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As the climate changes, smoky days in Northwoods will likely become more common

A smoky sunset over Boom Lake in Rhinelander
Katie Thoresen
A smoky sunset over Boom Lake in Rhinelander

The Northwoods has experienced a lot of hazy skies in recent weeks.

According to the Forest County Potawatomi air monitor in Crandon, between June 10th and 19th, there were only two days where the air quality stayed completely in the good category.

At times it fell to the unhealthy for everyone category.

Small particulates from the smoke get into our eyes and lungs.

At the same time, it’s contributing to ground-level ozone or what’s often referred to as smog.

Both of which are bad for our health.

“So it’s sort of a double whammy,” said Dr. Tracey Holloway. She’s a professor at UW-Madison who has studied air pollution for more than 20 years. She also leads NASA’s Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences team.

Holloway says in the short term, people often experience respiratory issues when it comes to this kind of air pollution, especially children, older adults, and people with underlying conditions like asthma and COPD.

The long-term effects can be harder to determine, but she says there’s a direct correlation between poor air quality and shorter life expectancy.

“When you run the data of all the different reasons people could get sick, you see more people getting sick, more people dying on the days that have a lot of pollution in the air,” said Holloway.

To prevent sickness and death, Holloway recommends taking precautions on bad air quality days like staying inside, getting an air purifier for your home, or wearing an N95 mask if you’re going to be outside.

In the long term, Holloway advocates for climate solutions.

Canada is having one of its worst fire seasons on record.

“No matter what metric you’re looking at there’s just more burning earlier in Canada and that is consistent with what we would expect. As the world is getting warmer, then the idea that land is just drier goes hand in hand with that expectation,” said Holloway.

A UN Climate Change report released earlier this year stated it’s still possible to limit global warming.

But the world needs to drastically decrease carbon pollution as soon as possible to do so.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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