Countywide

Poll: Fairfax County’s air quality is hazardous today. Have you limited your outdoor activities?

The Capital Beltway at Lewinsville Road is hazy and congested (via VDOT)

(Updated at 10:30 a.m.) It’s another day of poor air quality for Fairfax County and the rest of the D.C. area.

As wildfires continue to burn in Canada, the resulting smoke has clouded the East Coast in a sometimes orange-tinted haze of particulate matter. As of 9 a.m., Fairfax was at 313 on the Air Quality Index (AQI) — a Code Maroon for hazardous air that’s even more severe than yesterday’s Code Red.

Today’s AQI appears to be the highest for the D.C. region since records began in 1999, according to Ryan Stauffer, a NASA scientist who studies air pollution.

The highest alert on the official AQI, Maroon is a health warning of emergency conditions that can affect everyone, according to AirNow, which monitors official air quality based on data reported by federal, state and local agencies.

Everyone is advised to limit their exposure to the air pollution by staying inside or limiting the level of exertion required for outdoor activities, Fairfax County says.

Fairfax County Public Schools has canceled all outdoor activities on school grounds for the day, including recess, P.E., sports and after-school programs. The Fairfax County Park Authority has also canceled all outdoor classes, activities and amusements.

“Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning trees and plants, buildings, and other material,” the county said in an emergency blog post. “Wildfire smoke can make anyone sick, but people with asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), or heart disease are more likely to experience health effects of smoke. Pregnant women, babies and children are also at risk.”

In a twist, the masks that proliferated during the COVID-19 pandemic have made a comeback as the most effective way to filter particles from air pollution. In New York, which had the world’s worst air quality yesterday, N95 masks are being handed out for free today.

The worst of the pollution is expected to start clearing tomorrow (Friday), when a Code Orange AQI is forecast, but until then, it’s probably best to stay indoors if possible and mask up.

Image via VDOT