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“The world is on fire—and we need to act like it is just that.”

Statement by Dan Kass, Senior Vice President, Environment, Climate & Urban Health, Vital Strategies, on Canadian Wildfires and Air Quality Alerts Across U.S.

June 7, 2023 (New York)—“Last night, New York City briefly measured the worst air pollution of any major city around the world, due in part to Canadian wildfires spreading hazardous smoke across the northern United States. The entire Northeast region is experiencing unprecedented air quality alerts recommending restriction of outdoor activities especially for high-risk groups such as children and adults with pre-existing conditions, who will bear the burden of increased risk. In New York City, for example, people of color and low-income residents have higher rates of asthma, and are least likely to have access to air conditioning, one of the protective measures against heavy particulate pollutants. 

While we can expect the dangerous air in the Northeast to last until the fires are quenched, many cities around the world suffer year-round or season-long levels of air pollutants comparable to what NYC is currently experiencing. Globally, regional air pollution events happen frequently and many last for a long time. Indonesia’s annual peatland fires have contributed, on average, to the premature deaths of around 33,100 adults and 2,900 infants each year from air pollution. In India, from 2003 to 2019, crop-burning seasons caused 44,000 to 98,000 premature deaths related to particulate matter exposure each year.

While air pollution is a concern for short- and long-term health, the bigger issue at hand is the global impact of air pollution. Extreme weather events and spikes in air pollutants do not respect geographic or administrative boundaries and affect millions of people around the world.

These regional events also undermine any local efforts to tackle local air quality. While New York City’s air pollution levels have dropped more than 40% in the past 10 years, those gains can be wiped away by weather, pollution and events outside of our local control.  

Uncontrollable fires and more extreme weather patterns will continue to rise in number, severity and duration with changing climate. Fine particulate matter, of greatest concern from the health perspective, can be invisible to the naked eye, knows no boundaries, and kills millions each year. In addition, black and brown carbon, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and ozone precursors are the fire-related pollutants that will permanently alter the climate of our planet. 

The world is on fire—and we need to act like it is just that. Climate mitigation (reducing emissions) and climate adaptation (preparing for climate change) require a global response. When it comes to air pollution, local efforts alone will be ineffective without concerted efforts at the national, regional and international levels. Governments and policymakers must prioritize clean air actions if we’re to protect our health and the health of our planet.”

About Vital Strategies’ work in Environmental Health 

The Environmental Health Division has played a critical role in Vital’s work, leveraging the tools of public health to promote healthy and sustainable outcomes for people living in an increasingly urbanized world. Find out more and follow us on Twitter @VitalStrat

About Vital Strategies

Vital Strategies believes every person should be protected by an equitable and effective public health system. We partner with governments, communities and organizations around the world to reimagine public health so that health is supported in all the places we live, work and play. The result is millions of people living longer, healthier lives.

To learn more visit or follow us @VitalStrat.

Media Contacts
Ally Davis,
Shashwat Raj,