DETROIT (AP) — The Detroit area woke up Wednesday to some of the worst air quality in the United States as smoke from Canada’s wildfires settled over most of the Great Lakes region and unhealthy haze spread southward, as far as Missouri and Kentucky.
Drifting smoke from the wildfires has lowered curtains of haze on broad swaths of the United States, pushing into southern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, and moving into parts of West Virginia.
The Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow.gov site showed Detroit in the “hazardous” range and warned that “everyone should stay indoors and reduce activity levels.” Chicago, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Ohio; and Pittsburgh all have “very unhealthy” air. A wider circle of unhealthy air spread into St. Louis and Louisville, Ky.
“The more breaths you’re taking, you’re inhaling, literally, a fire, camp smoke, into your lungs,” said Detroit resident Darren Riley, who said he would wear a mask if he had to go outside at all on Wednesday.
The smoke is exacerbating air quality issues for poor and Black communities that already are more likely to live near polluting plants, and in rental housing with mold and other triggers.
Detroit’s southwest side is home to a number of sprawling refineries and manufacturing plants and has battled air pollution for decades. It is also one of the poorest parts of a mostly Black city, which has an overall poverty rate of about 30%. According to a 2022 report by the American Lung Association, the city’s ozone and short-term particle pollution ranked among the worst in the nation.
Riley’s own experiences being diagnosed with asthma in 2018 a few years after moving to Detroit and with the poor air quality in parts of the city prompted him to start JustAir, which provides air pollution monitoring.
“Just because you’re born in a certain ZIP code or you’re born into a certain family with a certain skin color doesn’t mean that you should have an unequal go at it,” said Riley, who is Black.