Smoke from wildfires is bad for you, you, you ... and even you

The wildfire smoke that's blanketed South Jersey isn't a concern only for people in vulnerable groups, experts say.

“It can be dangerous and it is not safe even for people with normal lungs to stay outside,” Dr. Eric Sztejman, a Virtua Health pulmonologist, said of the heavy haze that hit this region in recent days.

The persistent and pungent smoke disrupted the normal rhythms of summer in South Jersey -- cancelling baseball games and outdoor concerts, for instance, and keeping schoolchildren inside during recess.

The National Weather Service in Westampton reported a Code Red through midnight Thursday, meaning unhealthy pollution levels for all people.

Conditions improved Friday, falling to Code Orange (unhealthy for sensitive groups) and then to Code Yellow, or moderate pollution.

Code Yellow conditions were expected to continue into Saturday, according to, a federal website that tracks air quality.

An air quality alert for the region was set to expire at midnight Friday, according to the Weather Service.

It reported no outlook for haze in the weekend's forecast, suggesting a welcome relief for people who have struggled with the smoke.

“We are already treating people with breathing problems who are coming into our urgent care and emergency departments who had normal lungs,” Sztejman said in an interview Wednesday.

Smoke from  Canadian wild fires obscures the Philadelphia skyline as viewed Wednesday afternoon from the deck of the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial across the Delaware River in Camden. June 7m 1

Wildfire smoke can bring numerous health issues

Wildfires in Canada and parts of New Jersey are creating the worrisome levels of smoke in this area.

“It can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes for those with compromised health conditions, but it also can cause itchy eyes and nose irritation, but most importantly, can affect the mucous membrane of the lungs, in those with normal health," the doctor said.

“Lung injuries may develop and can be a long-term injury because of fine particulate matter that is greater in thick wildfire smoke," he added.

According to the American Lung Association, "Many of the particles in wildfire smoke are no larger than one third the diameter of your hair."

"These particles are so small that they enter and lodge deep in the lungs," it noted.

The best course of action is to to stay indoors to limit exposure to harmful particles in the air.

“Close the windows and doors, run the air conditioner and change the filter to prevent outdoor smoke from getting inside,” Sztejman advised.

He said wearing masks, even medical masks, outdoors is of limited value.

While Gov. Phil Murphy sent state workers home at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, construction workers remained outdoors on state road projects. On Route 70 they continued to replace underground utilities in a massive two-county project between Pennsauken and Marlton.

The state Department of Transportation "is treating this event as an excessive heat advisory, and all supervisors are monitoring our crews carefully," said Jim Barry, an agency spokesman.

"Supervisors have been instructed to assign appropriate work and offer indoor breaks to their teams," he said. "Additionally, we are providing masks to any employees who request one."

Union construction workers continue  on the job of a Route 70 highway project Wednesday near Conestoga Road when the air quality in New Jersey was listed as "unhealthy" due to smoke from Canadian wildfires funneling into the Northeast.

What's so dangerous about wildfire smoke?

Smoky conditions on Wednesday led the Battleship New Jersey Museum and Memorial in Camden to keep its workers inside, including carpenters installing teak wood on the deck of the 80-year-old ship.

“I am looking across the Delaware River right now at the smoke, which is so thick it is partially obscuring the Philadelphia skyline like fog,” said museum marketing director and vice president Jack Willard.

Anjuli Ramos-Busot, director of New Jersey Sierra Club, blamed climate change for the number and frequency of wildfires.

“Today is the first time ever in our state that the air quality has reached ‘unhealthy’ levels for all populations as forecasted by the state Department of Environmental Protection, let alone ‘very unhealthy’ levels (in some places),” she said Wednesday.

“When you look outside your windows, you can see climate change first-hand.”

More: Massive reconstruction on Route 70 now underway

Other tips to consider while the smoke persists:

  • Avoid strenuous activities and limit time outdoors.

  • If there is a need to work outdoors or to be out, take more indoor breaks if possible.

  • Shorten the length and intensity of any physical activity.

Carol Comegno tells stories about South Jersey life, history and veterans for the Courier Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal. Reach her at 856-486-2473 or email And support local journalism with a subscription.

This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: Wildfire smoke isn't good for anyone, health experts say