In June 2023 smoke from wildfires in Canada blanketed the Great Lakes region in haze and particle pollution. Public awareness of the pollution peaked with the smell of campfire, low visibility conditions, and health impacts, like itchy eyes, that resulted from the smoke plumes. The smoke from the Canadian fires impacted the Great Lakes region from June to September 2023. While wildfire smoke transporting through this region is common, it happens most years, the difference in 2023 was that the pollution from the smoke reached concentration levels rarely seen in last 20+ years.

The figure below shows the daily fine particle pollution (PM2.5) concentrations average across all monitors in the Great Lakes region for the year 2019-2023. Each colored line represents the daily average for each year. The particle concentrations in 2023 are shown by the blue line, with several high pollution events between June and September. The late June 2023 event was historic and led some media outlets to declare that cities in the region had the “worst air pollution in the world” during that period.

LADCO supports air quality planners in the region

LADCO works with our member states to track and understand the impacts of fire smoke on air quality in the region. Wildfire smoke poses a challenge for state and local air quality planning agencies in the Great Lakes region because it falls outside of their regulatory jurisdictions. There is nothing a state planning agency can do about controlling pollution from fire smoke, particularly if the fires are located far away, like Canada or the western U.S.

LADCO uses data science and computer modeling to quantify the amount of pollution entering the region from wildfires, and to identify the days during which smoke-influenced pollution is the worst. We work with our member states and U.S. EPA to account for pollution periods caused by transported wildfire smoke.

LADCO in the news discussing fire smoke and air quality

LADCO’s Executive Director has been in the news quite a bit since summer 2023 talking about wildfire smoke and air quality in Chicago.

The health of effects of Chicago’s Air Pollution (NPR, July 11, 2023)

About Author

Zac is LADCO's Executive Director. He's an environmental scientist with 20+ years experience in emissions and air quality modeling.