NY air quality spurred 84% increase in asthma-related ER visits outside NYC

As Canadian wildfire smoke air pollution peaked Wednesday in New York, hospitals across the state reported an 84% spike in asthma-related emergency room visits, excluding New York City, new state data show.

The striking increase in asthma ER visits — to 147 on Wednesday from an average of 80 the prior five days — came as air quality levels hit historically poor levels in New York.

At the same time, emergency medical service responses for respiratory symptoms leaped nearly 18% statewide in the rates per 100,000 population, including a 28% spike in the New York City metropolitan area, the data show.

People walk along Fordham Rd. in the Bronx June 8, 2023, on a day when air quality was still deemed unhealthy due to smoke from wildfires in Canada. Bronx residents are particularly at risk as the borough has some of the highest asthma rates in the nation.

The early reports underscored the complex health risks from the hazy smog blanketing New York for much of this week, spanning from minor coughing and eye irritation to increased risks of heart attack and diminished lung function.

Officials are now expected to keep monitoring public health fallout from the poor air quality, including potential increases in heart attacks, strokes and other serious cardiovascular conditions linked to the pollution, experts said.

Wildfire pollution health risks, in general, are heightened for children under 18 and people over 65, as well as those with heart conditions and those with asthma and other lung disorders.

Wildfire and smoke map: Track latest wildfires and stay informed on smoke conditions

What NY officials say about air quality now

Gov. Kathy Hochul discussed New York's health care system during a media briefing May 14 in Albany.

"For more than a week, we have been sounding the alarm that air quality issues are serious and pose a threat to the health and well-being of New Yorkers," Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a statement Friday.

"Now, as conditions gradually improve and it becomes safer to be outdoors in many regions of the state, it's critical that New Yorkers continue to stay informed and take common-sense safety precautions to protect themselves and their families," she added.

The state Health Department on Friday also launched a new website dedicated to providing updates on the wildfire smoke health threats, air quality warnings and related issues, at health.ny.gov/Wildfire.

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When will the air quality improve in NY?

The current air flow Friday afternoon was expected to continue to send the heaviest smoke south and west of New York, with the southern and western regions of the state continuing to see smoke conditions, state officials said.

The forecast for Saturday shows winds turning to a more north-northwesterly direction, with the possibility some smoke could come into the state later in the day.

Officials urged New Yorkers to monitor air quality levels online at the DEC's AQI site. Additional information can be found at the DEC's AQI Legend site. They can also call the state Air Quality Hotline: (800) 535-1345.

This article originally appeared on New York State Team: NY air quality: How asthma ER visits spiked amid wildfire smoke