A thick haze settles over Montgomery County, as seen from inside a D.C. Metro Red Line car. Credit: Gianna Gronowski

Smoke from Canadian wildfires has prompted Montgomery County Public Schools to cancel or reschedule all outdoor recess and other activities scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, according to an email alert sent to families late Wednesday morning. School officials say field trips and outdoor graduations may also be impacted.

The county is experiencing extremely poor air quality due to smoke from wildfires in Quebec, and officials are encouraging residents to limit time spent outdoors.

“Athletics will operate under guidelines similar to heat index warnings, which include reduced outdoor time and increased monitoring of athletes. Field trips may need to be rescheduled or modified depending on the location and extent of outdoor activity. Adjustments could be made to outdoor graduations,” the email from central office read.

The air quality index for the suburban D.C. region hit a code-red unhealthy level Wednesday that could cause negative health effects, according to state data. The index, which accounts for pollution in the air, measured as high as 176 in Montgomery County on a scale of 0-500, as of Wednesday morning. Values below 100 are generally considered healthy for humans.

AQI levels in Montgomery County as of Wednesday morning remain in the 170s, according to data. Source: Purple Air

“Fires over Quebec continue to produce prodigious smoke which is being continuously funneled on northerly flow towards the Mid-Atlantic,” a report from the Maryland Department of the Environment reads. The influx of fine smoke particles will continue through Thursday, according to the report.

Research shows air pollutants like smoke particles can exacerbate preexisting health conditions, reduce lung function and cause further health complications, particularly in vulnerable populations. According to MCPS, symptoms associated with wildfire smoke particulates can include:

  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness or trouble breathing
  • Itchy or runny eyes or nose
  • Burning eyes
  • Itchy or dry throat, and
  • Increased asthma symptoms for those with asthma

The school district also recommends avoiding strenuous activity and wearing a face mask to provide additional protection from current hazardous air conditions.

“This temporary air quality situation may raise concerns, and we assure you that we are closely monitoring the outdoor air quality conditions,” the school district announced. “Any modifications [to the school calendar] will be communicated as conditions continue to be monitored.”