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Questions, Incredulity, and, Finally, Adaptation as Smoke Persists

Thu, 06/08/2023 - 14:12
Fine particulate filling the air turned the sky an eerie yellow on Wednesday evening.
Durell Godfrey

With air quality levels in Suffolk County sitting just under 200, a level considered unhealthy and nearing very unhealthy, on Thursday morning, some people accustomed to working outside took the day off. For most, however, it was a regular day, despite the peach-colored air. At times the sky on Thursday resembled the light seen in a Hiroshige woodcut, or a Wes Anderson film.

Small children and people with asthma or compromised immune systems should stay indoors, said Dr. George Dempsey, the medical director of East Hampton family medicine, but for the average person it wouldn't be an issue. Instead, he worried about "super insulated" homes where air quality was poor. "And that's long-term exposure, versus a short-term acute exposure like what we've just experienced," he said. "Long term environmental health is really more interesting," he said.

And indeed, it's not like people were walking outside and having immediate medical emergencies. J.P. Foster, the head of dispatch for East Hampton Village, said no calls specific to air quality troubles had come into the emergency center. "Nothing as of yet," he said. A.J. McGuire, the chief of police in Sag Harbor, said no air quality specific phone calls had come into the village either.

Chief McGuire added, however, that the traffic control offers typically seen patrolling Main Street, would have the day off. "Doing school crossings today and that's it," he said.

In Sag Harbor Village and East Hampton Village the Departments of Public Works employees were out cutting grass and picking up trash like on any other day. "Everything is normal," said Marcos Baladron, the East Hampton Village administrator. 

"Business as usual," said Chris Malloy, owner of Malloy Pools, in Sag Harbor. "We have been fortunate that it hasn't become overwhelming until later in the day." The same sentiment was echoed by Jill Musnicki, a gardener and artist, who was headed to Southampton, despite worrisome readings on her Dyson air purifier. "I guess working earlier in the day is better?" she surmised. "So far it seems the afternoons are worse. That may just be coincidental."

Questions, incredulity, and, finally, adaptation seemed to dominate discussion on the orange haze that has settled over the region. Discussions about wind direction, if anything, were common among people other than surfers and sailors.

"We are wearing masks. What an omen," said Marilee Foster, a partner at Foster Farms in Sagaponack. In Amagansett, Katie Baldwin, co-owner of Amber Waves Farm, reported that the fields were still being worked, though some of her farmers had chosen to wear masks as well. However, Share the Harvest Farm in East Hampton, decided to close for the day. "The safety and well-being of our dedicated staff members and cherished customers are of utmost importance to us," farm managers wrote in an email. They planned to reopen again Friday.

David Beard, partner at Bill Miller and Associates, an arborist and tree surgeon company in Water Mill, canceled work for the day. "Our company always considers the safety and health of our staff as our top priority," he said. "Out of an abundance of caution, care for our staff, and staff input relative to working conditions, we postponed work today."

Jeff Nichols, the superintendent of the Sag Harbor School district, said outdoor activities were cancelled for the day. "The district has been monitoring the air quality in Suffolk County and the forecast for today is worse than yesterday. As a result, we thought it prudent to keep students inside," he said.

At the Springs School, the same was true, which meant postponement of a much-anticipated field day on Thursday. 

Sag Harbor Little League canceled its games for a second night in a row. "We literally did not have any games canceled by rain, and now this," said Beth Gregor, head of the league. But that didn't stop Jeff Robinson, the park manager at Mashashimuet, where the kids play their games, from working as usual, even though he admitted the "air quality has been drawing more of my attention."

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