DC’s air quality continues improving, region shifts to Code Yellow

The air quality in the D.C. region improved to Code Yellow Friday morning following days of an unhealthy atmosphere due to smoke from Canadian wildfires. Yet, it still remains unhealthy for some groups. Here’s what you need to know.

Changing to Code Yellow

In a statement, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and District Department of Energy and Environment the air quality for the region continues to improve, improving its rating. According to the AirNow rating system, a Code Yellow means air quality is acceptable but still a risk for some people, particularly those who are sensitive to air pollution.

“Smoke continues to linger over the region, but concentrations have dropped below alert levels for sensitive groups,” the statement read.

Particularly sensitive groups may continue to experience adverse effects caused by the air quality. Those who display certain symptoms, like coughing or shortness of breath, should make their outdoor activities shorter than usual or less intense, the statement said.

The D.C. region began Friday under a Code Orange, which means air quality was still unhealthy, and likely to have negative effects for sensitive groups. The majority of the D.C. area — the general public — is far less likely to be impacted by these outcomes.

(Courtesy AirNow)

The change brings sighs of relief after worsening air quality caused a nearly-unprecedented Code Purple, the worst air quality rating in decades.

Alex Koo, an emergency physician with MedStar Health, told WTOP that the hazy clouds still present a problem if you want to linger outside for too long.

“I think people could definitely have some breathing conditions with inhalation of all that soot,” Koo said. “Sometimes there could be some dangerous chemicals like carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide that kind of exacerbate our breathing conditions too.”

While air quality advisories are in effect, individuals and pets alike are also advised to stay indoors. As for humans, in addition to wearing an N95 or KN95 mask, doctors suggest avoiding strenuous activity outdoors will help to minimize the effects of air pollution.

“We want to protect your airways. We want to protect that particulate matter from getting in your airways and potentially even getting into your bloodstream,” Dr. Rachel Schreiber, an allergist with a practice in Rockville, Maryland, told WTOP earlier this week.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends replacing your N95 mask when the straps are stretched out, when it no longer fits snugly against your face, or when it becomes wet, dirty or damaged.

Break from the smog

Friday’s weather, 7News First Alert chief meteorologist Veronica Johnson said, provides the beginning of a brief break with space to breathe ahead of pride events this weekend.

“Eventually, some of that smoke and haze will be lifting, but that’s going to take all day long,” Johnson said.

Air quality is expected to continue improving on Saturday before a potential Code Green arrives on Sunday. By Monday, Johnson expects an upcoming “weathermaker” to bring rain and humidity to the forecast.

Meanwhile, Prince George’s County announced that all county government will resume normal outdoor operations on Friday.

Check fire.airnow.gov to get the most up to date air quality conditions down to your ZIP code.


FRIDAY: Hazy skies with a chance for afternoon rain. Northwest winds between 5-10 mph. Highs in the low to mid-70s.

FRIDAY NIGHT: Mainly clear. Lows in the mid to upper 50s.

SATURDAY: Mostly sunny with northwest winds ranging 5-10 mph. Highs in the mid 80s.

SUNDAY: Mostly sunny. Highs in the 90s.

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David Andrews

No stranger to local news, David Andrews has contributed to DCist, Greater Greater Washington and was fellow at Washingtonian Magazine. He worked as a photo/videographer for University of Maryland's Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center.

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