Air quality disrupts McLean activities, affects students

Severe air quality impacts students’ health as smoke from Canadian wildfires linger

A severe Air Quality Alert has been issued across Fairfax County, causing significant disruptions for students at McLean High School, following yesterday’s Code Red Air Quality Alert. The alert, triggered by smoke from Canadian wildfires, has resulted in poor air quality that is particularly problematic for students with respiratory troubles.

“I feel uncomfortable even walking to the mods [due to the air quality],” sophomore Ailesh Amatya said.

As of noon on Thursday, June 8th, the air quality was rated extremely unhealthy with around a 250 Air Quality Index mark.

“Right now there’s a low pressure system off the east coast of the United States spinning counterclockwise,” science teacher Andrew Diller said. “So if you put a low pressure system off the east coast, and it spins counterclockwise, that means it’s going up around [the coast], it’s grabbing southern Canada and then bringing [haze] back down towards us.”

The situation has made it challenging for PE classes and other activities to be conducted outdoors, as strenuous activities in the polluted air can exacerbate respiratory issues. As a result, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) officials have decided to prohibit all outside activities on school campuses on Wednesday. In fact, the air quality has made it so that the McLean softball team has had to relocate for their game. 

“Yesterday, we had to cancel the game because of the air quality,” junior softball player Emory Hadden said. “Today the air quality didn’t change, so [officials said we were] not going to be able to have the game. But, after Sunday the season ends and we have a lot of games to play that we still need to play. So now instead of [going to ] Lake Braddock, which is 30 minutes away, we have to go to Charlottesville, two and a half hours away, and then play there because the air quality is better there.”

The hazy skies and reduced visibility caused by the fine-particle pollution, known as “PM 2.5,” have resulted in a lingering odor throughout the McLean area. Students have reported that the school premises, including classrooms and outdoor spaces, smell somewhat of smoke.

“It’s getting to a point where it’s blocking out my field of vision,” sophomore Daniel Bryan said. “It’s pretty bad.”

The air quality alerts are expected to persist for the next 24 to 48 hours, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Authorities in Canada have been battling more than 150 forest fires across Northern Quebec. The smoke from these fires has traveled southward, blanketing regions such as Washington D.C., Baltimore, and Virginia, and triggering air quality alerts. 

“Anytime you go outside and if you’re smelling [smoke], you’re getting particulate matter, tiny pieces of debris and chemicals that have been within whatever was burning,” Diller said. “[With the] massive forest fires in Canada, it takes just certain weather conditions and wind to bring [haze] in.”

As the situation continues to evolve, officials from FCPS are closely monitoring the air quality to determine when it will be safe for students to resume outdoor activities. In the meantime, precautions are being taken to ensure the health and well-being of all students, particularly those with asthma who are more susceptible to the adverse effects of the poor air quality.

Parents, students, and staff are advised to stay updated on the situation through official announcements from the school and local authorities.