Mask Up Again! What Experts Recommend For Wildfire Smoke Protection


Jun. 9 2023, Published 12:25 p.m. ET

New Yorkers wearing masks amid haze from Canadian fires.
Source: Getty Images

Hopefully, you still have some masks from COVID-19 pandemic, because you may need them again. Poor air quality in some parts of the U.S. due to the wildfires in Canada is prompting city and state officials to advise people to wear masks if they have to go outside.

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Masks can help protect against exposure to pollutants in the smoky haze. However, not all masks are created equal. Let’s consider what masks to wear to protect against wildfire smoke.

Masks passed out in New York Subway.
Source: Getty Images
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What masks should you wear for wildfire smoke?

Like during the COVID pandemic, experts recommend N95 face masks over all other types when it comes to protecting yourself from wildfire smoke.

When properly fitted over your nose and mouth, the N95 can filter 95 percent of smoke particles, reports the California Department of Public Health.

In New York City in early June 2023, the levels of smoke particulates were nearly 60 times the recommended guideline of the World Health Organization, TIME reported.

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“Air quality is at unhealthy levels in New York today due to wildfire smoke drifting down from Canada. Reminder that N95 masks help protect against smoke too. It’s a good idea to wear a mask outside today!” scientist Dr. Lucky Tran tweeted on June 6.

Research gathered by Wirecutter found that KN95 masks are also effective at filtering out smoke from wildfires, but slightly less protective than N95 masks.

If you don’t have an N95 or KN95, some experts say any type of mask is still better than nothing.

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"If you can stay inside, that's the best bet,” New York State Acting Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald told CBS News in June 2023, when the air quality was at its worst. “If you do have to go outside — I have my N95 on me. I, quite frankly, encourage people to have theirs. Any mask will do. Use the best mask you can."

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How many wildfires are burning in Canada?

According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, as of June 8th, there are 424 active fires in Canada, 231 of which are still out of control. The majority of the fires are around Quebec, in Central Canada.

Is climate change causing the Canadian wildfires?

The climate crisis is to blame, in part, for the increasing frequency and size of wildfires worldwide, says environmental activist Maya van Rossum. Van Rossum is the founder of the national nonprofit Green Amendment For the Generations and leader of the regional advocacy organization Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

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"The smoky air that is a danger to human health – particularly the young, the old, the immunocompromised, those with asthma and heart issues — is the most recent example of how the climate crisis is touching, threatening and harming communities across our nation, Van Rossum said in a statement sent to Green Matters.

“Those who feel they are not impacted by the climate crisis are forced to reconsider as the smokey air drives them indoors in order to protect their own health or every time they experience or read in the news about the next big flood, drought or wildfire," she added.

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Smoke haze from Canadian wildfires over the U.S. Capitol.
Source: Getty Images

Van Rossum criticized “backdoor deals” like the one to address the debt ceiling, for contributing to an “increase in climate-changing emissions and a climate crisis that is very literally fueling growing wildfire like those happening right now in Canada.”

The deal Congress passed to raise the debt ceiling helped fast-track government approval of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, a 300-mile fracked gas pipeline from West Virginia to southern Virginia. Environmentalists against the pipeline project descended on Washington, D.C., on June 8 to protest the plan.


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