Greenwich Health Dept: Air Quality Has Improved But Lessons Will Linger

Submitted by Stephanie Paulmeno, Greenwich Health Dept, Submitted by Dr. Stephanie Paulmeno, DNP, RN, NHA, CPH, CCM, CDP, Public Health Promotion Specialist

With our days of bad air quality from the Canadian wildfires now largely behind us, there still remain lessons to be learned from the experience.

Despite the many out-of-control forest and wildfires we have in this country each year, it is surprising to me that this was the first one from which I felt a personal impact.

It surprises me that some of our most frequent forest fire locations still have any forest acreage left to burn; California coming immediately to my mind. I do recall feeling the air quality after-effects from the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washington; but its impact on this side of the country felt mild compared to the Canadian wildfire impact we have just experienced. Mount St. Helens remains an active volcano and is considered one of the deadliest in the United States therefore that, too, could happen again. In my 75 years living on the East coast I had never experienced such dire air quality as I did last week; my perspective on “bad air” is now permanently altered. The Canadian wildfire was a multi-sensory phenomenon for us. We could see the smoky haze, and at times, because of it, we could not see the normal landmarks in our environment. It looked eerie, surreal, and other-worldly. It had an awful and pernicious odor and we could feel the grittiness in our eyes, nose and mouth.

Our Greenwich Dept of Health promptly posted public health and safety guidance from several reputable science and evidence-based sources on the Town website Health Department, Greenwich, CT (

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection promptly issued educational information for the public to consider (Search Results (; the Connecticut Dept of Public Health distributed guidance directly, as well as through local health departments and the media ( Search Results); educational advisories were posted directly from the Connecticut Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security ( and (; and our local news venues have been exemplary in their efforts to keep the public aware of changes in our air quality as well as updating changes in the recommended guidance. We can all check our local smoke particulate conditions at any time of day or night, right down to our own zip code locations, by accessing

The guidance given during this Air Quality Alert should be kept by all of us for future need. As in the case of the pandemic, do any of us think this will be the last time we will need to dust off the guidance provided for keeping ourselves safe? The guidance told us who was at highest risk of harm from the smoke exposure, what personal protections we had at our own disposal, and actions to take.

Connecticut’s Public Health Commissioner, Dr. Manisha Juthani, alerted us that those with underlying medical/health conditions, and the very young and very old, are at higher risk than the general population for adverse effects from the bad air quality.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) emphasized that anyone can be made sick due to the accumulation of gasses and the harmful particulate matter that are in the smoky air, and that people with asthma, chronic obstructive lung diseases, heart disease, and those who are pregnant, as well as First Responders were at special risk (

As of June 1, 2023, the USA has had 18,300 wildfires that have burned over 511,000 acres this year alone (Congressional Research Service. (N. A.) (6-1-23). Wildfire Statistics: In Focus, PDFIF10244). While our crisis in Connecticut appears over, we have no guarantees that another won’t occur that will be blown our way, or that we won’t experience a tragic wildfire here. Very good guidance was provided by these and other health/public health professionals, and it was widely disseminated through the sources above and through media sources including (

These are common-sense suggestions that we should tuck away in our minds should we find we need them again:

• Stay indoors with windows and doors closed
• If you have air conditioning/air filtering systems, use them
• Avoid exerting yourself especially for prolonged time periods
• Consider using a KN95 or N95 mask if you need to be outdoors; both are adequate for filtering out the particulate matter that we do not want to inhale. Paper/cloth masks are not very effective against smoke
• If you have to be outdoors, be aware that air quality is better in the early morning or late evening than it is at other times of day; if you can change your work schedule, do it
• Remember that your pets are affected too.