Concerts, outdoor events canceled in Brooklyn as wildfire smoke threatens public health

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Wildfire smoke blotted out the skyline in Brooklyn on Wednesday as city officials warned New Yorkers to mask up and stay indoors.
Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Wildfire smoke has forced several local organizations to call off concerts and events planned for Wednesday night as health officials urge New Yorkers to stay inside.

Air quality was ranked “very unhealthy” in Brooklyn on Wednesday, with conditions expected to worsen throughout the day. Hundreds of wildfires are burning in Canada, and a haze of hazardous sepia-toned smoke has enveloped parts of the U.S., putting public health at risk.

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Air quality deteriorated in Brooklyn throughout the day on Wednesday, reaching levels considered “very unhealthy” as the afternoon wore on. Image courtesy of AirNow.gov

As of Wednesday afternoon, the air quality index for all of Kings County was 288, “very unhealthy,” but certain neighborhoods are faring worse than others. The Department of Environmental Conservation’s AQI monitors in Sunset Park and Red Hook have registered the air quality as “hazardous” with readings of 358. Readings above 301 are considered “health warnings of emergency conditions.”

In Williamsburg, Bushwick, Fort Greene, and Park Slope the quality of the air is deemed “unhealthy” with readings ranging from 224 to 285. Meanwhile, in Flatbush, AQI monitors registered a 151. 

“All New Yorkers should limit outdoor activity to the greatest extent possible,” Mayor Eric Adams said at a June 7 press conference. “Stay inside, close windows and doors, and use air purifiers if you have them.”

All Brooklyn Public Library branches closed early, at 3:30 p.m. due to worsening air quality conditions. In Coney Island, Luna Park postponed its expansion event with fireworks, promising a rescheduled celebration in the coming weeks. 

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Coney Island’s bustling amusement district was quiet behind a haze of smoke Wednesday as city officials urged New Yorkers to stay inside. Photo courtesy of EarthCam

Likewise, the opening night of BRIC’s outdoor summer concert series Celebrate Brooklyn! in Prospect Park was also canceled because of poor air quality. Due to upcoming scheduling conflicts of the co-headliners, Taj Mahal and Corinne Bailey Rae, the show will not be rescheduled. 

“The health of our staff and the communities we serve is the number one priority for BRIC and we can’t, in good conscience, risk the wellbeing of our friends and neighbors who may have high risk health issues,” BRIC President Wes Jackson said in a statement, noting that BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn is slated to resume with their Family Day concert this Saturday.

Other events confirmed to be canceled include; The Brooklyn Borough President’s jazz concert at Borough Hall; Smith Street Stage’s preview of “As You Like It” at Carroll Park (Thursday and Friday’s shows are still planned to go ahead) and NYC Park’s Tango in the Park at Sutton Place.  

Public schools were open on Wednesday, but the Department of Education canceled all outdoor activities and outdoor after-school programs in accordance with city guidance. 

State and city authorities urged New Yorkers to wear high-quality masks – like N95s or KN95s — for necessary outdoor activities.

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A man fishes on the Canarsie Pier in a mix of haze and smoke due to Canadian wildfires. City officials urged New Yorkers to stay inside and wear masks for necessary outdoor activities. Photo by Lloyd Mitchell

Smoke exposure may cause irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, said Dr. Ashwin Vasan, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, at a press conference on Wednesday.

People with underlying respiratory conditions — like asthma — may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, and dizziness.

The state’s air quality advisory is set to expire Wednesday night — but the smoke may linger through the end of the week. Zachary Iscol, commissioner of the city’s department of emergency management, said the city may be in for more smoke in coming months.

“Canada has 9 percent of the world’s forests and this year’s fire season has actually occurred early in Canada,” Iscol said. “The intensity, as well as the number of fires is far higher than usual. Usually, it peaks in July. So this is something that we can continue to see possibly over the next few months.”

North Brooklyn Council Member Lincoln Restler criticized the city’s response to the fires on Wednesday, asserting the city had not taken proactive steps to protect New Yorkers. 

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Smoke obscured the Brooklyn Bridge from view.Photo courtesy of EarthCam

“Despite days of warnings that smoke from Canadian wildfires would make its way here to NYC, the City issued limited public statements or guidance yesterday,” Restler said in a statement. “This Mayor rightly cautions us that not everyone lives on Twitter and yet the most consequential action his administration took on the first day of this emergency was a tweet. That’s not getting stuff done, it’s watching stuff happen.”

The rep urged the city to send air purifiers to schools, NYCHA complexes, and jails; open city-run “cooling centers” with clean air; distribute masks to city workers who must be outside; and issue emergency alerts to all New Yorkers.

“We need a full accounting and oversight hearing on why the City failed to respond to these conditions in a timely manner to ensure we aren’t caught unprepared again,” Restler said.