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N.H. Road Crews Work Through Another Wave Of Smoky Haze From Western Wildfires

a hazy sun hangs low on the horizon in front of a field with a tractor
Emily Quirk
/
NHPR
Smoke colors the sun red in Merrimack on July 26, 2021.

Smoke from western wildfires will likely continue causing thick haze in New Hampshire through Wednesday morning, raising health risks for children, older adults, those with respiratory issues and anyone exerting themselves outside.

It’s prompted the state’s second air quality alert for wildfire smoke within the past week. Similar alerts are in place across much of the Northeast.

Scientists say climate change is driving more droughts and heat, including in New England, that can lead to severe wildfires and cause widespread health effects from smoke. Health officials say wearing an N95 mask during prolonged outdoor exposure can reduce risks from this pollution.

Kyle Rodrick, a civil engineer with the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, has been working on a guardrail replacement project on I-93 in Hooksett this week and said he's noticed the haze.

"Today [Tuesday] is better than yesterday — I can actually see blue skies," he said. "Yesterday was considerably more hazier... I didn't probably realize it 'til I got home, like, 'Oh, wow, I was maybe coughing more than usual.'"

The state Department of Environmental Services (DES) says high concentrations of fine-particle air pollution began blowing into the region again on Monday, from huge ongoing fires in the Northwestern U.S. and Canada.

-1429029769774357983 (1).jpg
Kyle Rodrick
/
NHDOT
Haze is visible over an NHDOT construction site on I-93 in Hooksett during last week's wave of smoke, on July 20, 2021.

Officials say wind shifts should move the smoke away and clear the air by midday Wednesday. Until then, they say, people should take precautions outdoors.

The smoke causes a haze in the air and can lead to adverse health effects for young children, older adults and anyone with respiratory issues such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis, as well as anyone working or exerting themselves outside for long periods, regardless of risk factors.

DES says it means everyone should limit strenuous outdoor activities during the smoky conditions. Symptoms from the haze can include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, chest pains or palpitations and coughing, especially for people with existing lung diseases.

Rodrick, the DOT engineer, said contractors on job sites like his in Hooksett are encouraging workers to take frequent breaks and drink plenty of water.

He said it would take a more major weather emergency, and a declaration from higher up in state government, to pause the construction work — something like a winter storm where road travel is discouraged. The Hooksett guardrail project will continue through October.

"Everyone seems to be doing fine," he said. "I think it's a combination with the heat and the haze, just staying hydrated is most important."

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.

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