Due to the wildfires raging in Northern California, San Francisco, Stockton and Sacramento were the world’s three “most polluted cities” on Friday morning, according to Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit that aggregates data from air-quality monitoring sites.
PurpleAir, which has a network of sensors around the world, also showed that California had worse air than traditional smog hotspots in India and China.
Meteorologist Brandon Miller confirmed that “no region on Earth had as many air quality stations in the highest ranges” of particulate matter, or PM, the toxic mixture of particles and droplets that worsens after wildfires.
Those values, he said, “stretched for hundreds of miles over Northern and Central California, from the mountains to the valleys and the coast.”
Schools, colleges and public transit have closed as smoke from the Camp Fire descends on the region.
“It appears to be the worst air quality ever experienced in San Francisco,” said Dan Jaffe, a professor of environmental chemistry at the University of Washington. He called the situation “an air quality emergency,” and experts said the smoke could undo decades of progress on pollution.
“We have made tremendous efforts and investment to clean up our air with considerable benefits for public health,” said Dr. Daniel Jacob, a professor of atmospheric chemistry and environmental engineering at Harvard University. “But now it’s like we’re getting stabbed in the back with those wildfires.”
Some call cancellations ‘too little, too late’
San Francisco’s transit agency has taken its cable cars off the streets, several schools have canceled classes, and the National Park service suspended tours to Alcatraz Island.
Public schools in San Francisco and Alameda County were closed Friday, along with UC Davis and UC Merced. UC Berkeley also canceled Friday’s classes, but some students criticized the university’s decision to stay open Thursday as smoke descended on the campus.
The school’s student association wrote a letter to their chancellor denouncing the “administration’s insufficient response to these public health risks” and urging administrators to allocate emergency funds for masks and mobile air filtration units.
“Campus buildings are not equipped to filter out the pollutants making the air indoors just as harmful as it is outside,” the group wrote. Some students, even those without pre-existing conditions, said they felt sick.
“I had a bloody throat, bloody nose, a cough, dry and watering eyes, and my throat is still very sore and dry,” freshman Sabrina Thorn said. “I almost passed out trying to go to class yesterday. My professor told me to go home.”READ MORE