Climate Change

Apocalyptic skies: Canadian wildfires posing huge health risks

Estimated 115 million people impacted; health dangers shocking indictment of failures over climate change, says Amnesty International

By Nandita Banerji
Published: Thursday 08 June 2023
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres shared a photo of him looking out of the UN headquarters in New York. Photo: @antonioguterres / Twitter__

Some of the biggest cities in North America, like Montreal, Toronto and New York, are shrouded in heavy smog as around 400 fires burn in Canada. Climate change is worsening the scale of wildfires worldwide, as rising temperatures lead to longer and more destructive fire seasons, warned a human rights organisation. 

The wildfires will have an unmeasurable impact on the quality of life and right to health of those forced to breathe in this foul air, Amnesty International warned. They also pose significant health risks to tens of millions of residents in the United States and Canada, particularly those living in close proximity to the affected areas.

Active fires in the US and Canada reported by satellite observations on June 8, 2023. Source: NASA

Active fires in the US and Canada reported by satellite observations on June 8, 2023. Source: NASA 

“Children, pregnant people, older adults and people with heart or lung disease are especially vulnerable to the small particulates generated by these fires and these particles can be carried vast distances,” Marta Schaaf, Amnesty International’s director of climate, economic and social justice and corporate accountability programme. said. 

Read more: UNEP’s Fire Ready Formula: Invest more in preventing wildfires

Furthermore, the fires are having a significant impact on Indigenous Peoples and have already forced the evacuations of the communities of Fort Chipewyan in Alberta and Uashat mak Mani-utenam in Quebec, she added. 

This year has already seen unusually severe wildfires in Russia, Spain, Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Central America, according to Copernicus, the EU’s earth observation monitoring programme. “Unless we urgently change course and rapidly phase out fossil fuels, the world will get hotter and impacts such as these fire events will worsen,” Schaaf further said.

New York City’s air quality remains in the “very unhealthy” category as more thick smoke poured south from Canada’s devastating wildfires, reported British news website The Independent.

The Big Apple continues to have the worst air quality among major cities across the globe on the Air Quality Index (AQI). At one stage, levels went above 350, said to be “hazardous”.

Read more: How to reverse global wildlife declines by 2050

At least 13 US states have issued air quality alerts, impacting an estimated 115 million people. Canadian officials warned that this could be the country’s worst wildfire season on record, with over 6.7 million acres already scorched.

Wildfire smoke contains various harmful pollutants, including fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides. 

The health effects of particle pollution exposure can range from relatively minor (eg, eye and respiratory tract irritation) to more serious health effects (eg, exacerbation of asthma and heart failure and premature death), according to the US Environment Protection Agency. 

Read more:

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :
Related Stories

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.