Newark Public Schools canceled outdoor recess and activities on Wednesday as smoke from Canadian wildfires enveloped the area.
School business administrator Valerie Wilson emailed school principals late Tuesday night about precautionary measures they should take in light of the unhealthy air quality in Newark. The city of Newark is also urging residents to take precautions during this time.
“We are monitoring this matter very carefully and with the guidance of health officials will make notifications of any changes,” said Nancy Deering, the district’s acting communications director, “Also, as a precautionary measure, all recess activities are being held inside.”
On Tuesday evening, red alerts were issued for Essex and surrounding counties for unhealthy air conditions as smoke began to enter the area from the hundreds of wildfires burning in Canada. On Wednesday morning, New Jersey residents woke up to smoke still clouding the area and state officials are expecting worsening conditions this afternoon.
Inhaling smoke and ash from wildfires could cause damage to the body, lungs, and heart, experts say. That could pose a special risk for communities such as Newark, where people are exposed to higher levels of pollution and are twice as likely to develop asthma, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.
The district is using air filters in school areas due to the smoke and asked principals to ensure all windows remain closed on Wednesday. The city is also advising residents to stay indoors as much as possible and use an air purifier if one is available.
Due to unhealthy air conditions, sensitive groups such as young children, elderly residents, and people with asthma are advised to stay indoors.
Wilson’s email to principals did not mention safety precautions for students with asthma but nearly 600 employees districtwide are trained to support these students. While 1 in 10 kids across Essex County have asthma, in Newark, the rate is 1 in 4, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. In 2016 and 2019, two Newark children from the same school died of asthma attacks.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Newark Teachers Union posted a message on its Facebook page advising against outdoor recess today and recommending that asthmatic children and adults wear a mask outside.
The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and the Newark Department of Health and Community Wellness continue to monitor the air quality and will issue updates as needed throughout the day.
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Residents can check their local air quality at the AirNow website, which provides state, local and regional updates.
Jessie Gomez is a reporter for Chalkbeat Newark, covering public education in the city. Contact Jessie at firstname.lastname@example.org.