ALBANY — New York’s air quality improved Thursday, but unhealthy conditions due to the wildfires in Canada are expected to continue into the weekend, state officials said.
Gov. Kathy Hochul, during a press conference, continued to encourage people to stay indoors whenever possible while hundreds of wildfires burn in Canada, creating a haze of smoke across the Northeast.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s website showed the state’s Air Quality Index (AQI) as “unhealthy,” for the entire state, excluding the Adirondacks, which has a “moderate” air quality. The state’s normal AQI is around 50. As of Thursday afternoon, the Environmental Protection Agency’s website put Schenectady County’s AQI at 136.
“There are residents out there who need our help and, similar to a snowstorm, check on your neighbors,” Hochul said. “Check on senior citizens who may not be on a cellphone to watch the news. These are some of the most vulnerable people we have in our state.”
Hochul on Wednesday urged schools throughout the state to cancel outdoor activities during the unhealthy conditions created by the smoke. Many school districts, including the Schenectady City School District and Saratoga Springs City School District, continued to cancel outdoor activities through at least Thursday. The Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Flag Day Parade Thursday night was also canceled.
The 518 Futures Game Classic, set to take place at Joseph L. Bruno Stadium in Troy, was among the local postponements — moved to Sunday.
Hochul said air quality inside school buildings remains safe and in-class learning should continue, especially since the state used federal funding to install new air filters in schools and childcare centers. Despite this, New York City Mayor Eric Adams announced city schools will shift to remote learning Friday.
Additionally, Hochul announced new measures for the state’s horse racing tracks. The state Gaming Commission on Thursday directed all tracks to stop racing, training and workouts until further notice. The new measures require all racing and training to stop if the AQI exceeds 200 at a specific facility. If the AQI is between 150 and 200, only horses that pass an additional pre-race respiratory veterinary exams are allowed to race.
The measures make uncertain the 155th running of the Belmont Stakes this Saturday. Training and racing were canceled Thursday at Belmont Park. It is the third-and-final leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown and draws a nationwide audience.
“As New Yorkers continue to experience unhealthy air quality as a result of Canadian wildfires, we must all work to ensure that animals — including these peak-performance equine athletes — are protected,” Hochul said. “The measures being implemented at tracks across New York state are effective steps to keep all those who participate in the sport safe, now and into the future.”
Hochul said this is the new era of climate change.
“This is the new reality we’re dealing with. I know a lot of people are stressed out after what happened during the pandemic, but those were very different circumstances,” she said. “We’re the first generation to really feel the effects of climate change — and the last one to be able to do anything meaningful about it.”