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As wildfire smoke smothers CT, Fairfield County residents are hit particularly hard

Smoke from Canadian forest fires that has affected much of the northeast, hangs over skyline of New York City, June 7, 2023.
Andrew Lichtenstein
Corbis News
Smoke from Canadian forest fires that has effected much of the northeast, hangs over skyline of New York City, June 7, 2023.

Air quality alerts remain in effect across Connecticut due to air pollution from Canadian wildfire smoke. Fairfield County, which is already one of the most polluted counties in the country, is being hit the hardest out of any other region in Connecticut.

Some municipalities have had different experiences this week.

Bridgeport has historically suffered from high rates of air pollution. Norwalk has cleaner air on average and city officials tried to drum up public awareness about the air quality advisories.

Norwalk also reached out to non-English speaking residents, according to Michelle Woods Matthews, who is the director of communications for Mayor Harry Rilling.

“We also sent out a Spanish version since Norwalk has a lot of Spanish speaking community members to share a message about how they could protect themselves,” Matthews said.

Stratford is one of the towns in Fairfield County that already has tools in place to monitor air quality levels.

Stratford already suffers from poor air quality. The health department regularly posts air quality alerts working with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) app AirNow.

The app uses six colors to grade air quality. Green is clean air, and the opposite is a dark maroon, according to Alivia Coleman, who is a health program associate at the Stratford Health Department.

Coleman says this week is the first time she’s seen it in the purple and dark maroon color.

“We really haven't seen levels this high since they started monitoring air quality in the 1990s. So it's definitely unprecedented," Coleman said.

Stratford’s ozone received an F rating by the American Lung Association. But the town’s air wasn’t too bad by the time the smoke started to make its way into the state.

Coleman said Stratford was spared from an even worse situation thanks to the relatively low ozone levels that were in place when the smoke rolled in.

‘“So fortunately, we didn't have to worry about the two of them, combining to increase our air quality index, it was just smaller particulate matter that was an issue this week.”

Bridgeport already suffers from poor air quality. That city issued a release advising residents suffering from air pollution to head to municipal libraries, bus stations and senior centers. Requests for comment were left unanswered.

Most municipalities have issued warnings to residents. Norwalk continued issuing air advisories to residents into Thursday, even as the skies began to clear.

But Deanna D’Amore, the health department director for the city, said she so far has not seen much public complaints about the air quality.

It's not for lack of trying.

“We've been proactive with our messaging and trying to get the word out as much as possible to make people aware so that they can protect themselves,” D’Amore said. So that's what we continue to do.”

Westport town officials have also been proactive. They reached out to residents and asked them to stay indoors if possible.

Westport, like Norwalk, did not open a center for residents suffering from poor air quality. Emergency Management Director Nick Marsan said the senior center is already open.

The department advised schools and sports teams to adjust their summer activities.

“There are some sports that have playoffs. And they've all made very proactive decisions to push that off until another time,” Marsan said.

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