Air filters sell out, flights grounded, masks return, roadwork goes on with haze in Lancaster County


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May 14, 2023

Air filters sell out, flights grounded, masks return, roadwork goes on with haze in Lancaster County

Lancaster County's air quality is now some of the worst in the country as a

Lancaster County's air quality is now some of the worst in the country as a smoky haze continues to choke the skies along the East Coast.

Jet stream winds have been pushing smoke and haze from wildfires in Canada across Pennsylvania and into the county throughout the week, increasing wildfire risks here and fouling the air.

Click here for closings and cancellations because of the haze.

Here's a look at how businesses and people are responding, from the Barnstormers to child care providers, as the air quality worsens.

Workers from JD Eckman Inc. work on Centerville Road in East Hempfield Township on Thursday, June 8, 2023, despite poor air quality from wildfires in Canada.

No rest for roadwork

Work on the project to widen Centerville Road continued on Thursday despite the poor air quality.

Late in the afternoon, there appeared to be as much in the air from machines moving dry dirt in moderate drought conditions than there was from the Canadian fires smoke.

JD Eckman, which is overseeing the two-year, $36.3 million project for the state Department of Transportation, advised workers to take breaks in their vehicles if they felt any ill effects from the weather.

Mike Crochunis, a Pennsylania Department of Transportation spokesperson, said it encouraged its contractors to limit outdoor activity, and most PennDOT staff were working indoors or operating enclosed equipment.

"Due to the air quality issues occurring across the region, PennDOT is reviewing work schedules and activities to limit the exposure employees have to this situation," Crochunis wrote in an email.

- Chris Reber

Kid activities on hold

Lancaster KinderCares’ summer tour of Lancaster and York county parks for its kindergarten classrooms is temporarily paused thanks to the hazardous air quality in the county Thursday, according to director Hayley Zadroga.

"It's best to keep inside," she said.

Zadroga informed all parents that outdoor play and any travel Thursday and Friday will be limited.

Instead, today, the center pushed all the shelves in the toddlers’ room and brought in both rocking horses and little tricycles. That way the children had plenty of space to roam despite being stuck indoors.

"Anything to help," Zadroga said. "Their little bodies just need to move."

The center, which is open to children from 6 weeks to 12 years old Monday through Friday, will reassess over the weekend to determine whether or not the kids will have outdoor play next Monday. Additionally, KinderCares has put in a work order to have all of its air filters changed once the smoke clears.

- Ashley Stalnecker

Let's Roll, an electric bike rental shop with a Columbia location near the Northwest River Trail, fielded some calls Thursday morning from worried customers.

"I had three rentals cancel today because of the smoke," said co-owner Tim Hill. "It's not the end of the world. People cancel all the time."

Hill, who lives in Lancaster city, said the smoke seemed worse Thursday morning in Columbia where the parking lot at the Columbia Crossings River Trails Center – the bike trail's southern trailhead – was empty.

"I’m down here right now at Columbia Crossing and I can't even see the other side of the river because of the smoke," he said. "The smoke is definitely chasing people away."

Hill said he's hopeful that things will clear up by the weekend when more people like to get out on the trail. "I have a lot on deck for Saturday and Sunday. I hope they don't cancel on me."

Just up the river from Columbia, Marty Cox of Chiques Rock Outfitters said his mid-week kayak and bike rentals have been about normal and he doesn't anticipate a weekend slowdown.

"Nobody has said anything so far. They’re booking reservations," he said. "It's not a detriment yet."

While Cox said the outdoor recreation business hasn't been taking much of a hit, he personally plans to stay inside. "I’ve got work to do, but I’m not going out there and breathing this garbage in," he said.

– Chad Umble

A view from the White Cliffs of Conoy in Marietta on Thursday, June 8, 2023, as smoke from a Canadian wildfire continues to affect the air quality in Lancaster County.

It was a cloudy day at the White Cliffs of Conoy. Specifically, it was one giant smoky haze that the sun thankfully pierced through on occasion. That didn't seem to bother many of the baker's dozen worth of people walking the trail and taking pictures atop the large pieces of jagged limestone at trail's end.

Not Don DeClementi, of Mount Joy, pausing near the starting point of Koser Park on his bicycle. Nor Samantha and Susan Anderson of nearby Manchester, who said that the ominous sky did not disturb them from their plans to see the cliffs this afternoon.

Due to the weather and relative lack of view of the river and sky from along the trail, it was easy to feel like it was a totally normal day, not, say, one featuring an Air Quality Index number higher than the likes of India and Bangladesh. The only indicator down on the ground that something was amiss was the pair of Barb and Bill Roberts of East Hempfield, seen cycling to and fro the trail in matching black KN95 masks.

"Well, we’re already trying to be healthy by doing this," Barb Roberts said, motioning to her bike, "So we figured we might as well bring these (masks)."

When it was mentioned that the sight of people biking in masks recalls those similarly hazy early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bill Roberts agreed, saying with a laugh that it was a feeling "almost like PTSD." After talking for another minute, the Roberts continued on their way, committed to getting their predetermined hour of fitness in.

- Kevin Stairiker

Members of the Hempfield High School boys and girls cross country teams who gather daily throughout the summer at Amos Herr Park to train received a strict order from their coach to stay home Wednesday.

- Michael Long

Helicopter tours for tourists and flight instruction have been grounded for two days at Smoketown Helicopters.

Andrew McClintock, customer service representative, said four helicopter tours were canceled between Wednesday and Thursday.

"With the haze coming, visibility is shortened to a few miles, and we need around 10 miles," he said.

A man from Maryland is coming for a tour on Friday and they have not canceled as of Thursday. McClintock said they are watching conditions closely and will let the man know Friday morning if the tour is on. Tours cost between $79.99 and $349.99 per person.

– Lisa Scheid

Todd Heagy of Ephrata, speaks with a reporter as he bikes the Ephrata rail trail on Thursday, June 8, 2023.

The haze from faraway wildfires hung over the Warwick-to-Ephrata Rail Trail on Thursday, but that didn't keep people and pets from their treasured outdoor time.

Todd Heagy usually hits the trail on his e-bike around lunchtime daily and tries to go out later in the evening to visit his grandson. The air Thursday smelled like a campfire, but he still rode from his Ephrata home to the trail.

"I want to be outside and exercise," he said after a break to talk to other cyclists.

Jared Horn still took his daily walk over his lunch break from his job as Ephrata National Bank's marketing coordinator. He thought the air quality caused him to tire quicker on a Sunday bike ride. But it's almost summer, time to enjoy being outside, said Horn, who lives in Strasburg.

Steven Judd and black lab Bullet usually jog part of their almost daily walk on the trail. Thursday afternoon, they slowed to a walk.

At least things looked better than Wednesday, he said. Judd ended that day's walk with a headache and sinuses that felt heavier than usual.

Still, that wasn't enough to keep them inside.

"I have to get out and get fresh air as much as I can," said the Ephrata resident.

– Erin Negley

Child care changes

Normally at Bright Beginners Daycare and Learning Center in Lancaster city, children are playing outside. Today, they’re staying indoors, said owner Tina Camp. Children were also kept inside yesterday and will remain indoors at the center until the air quality code red alert is dropped, she said.

Luckily, keeping activity indoors doesn't really change anything for the children aside from the lack of sunlight, Camp said.

At the Lancaster Recreation Center day camp program, children ages 6 through 12 participating in were staying indoors playing basketball, dodgeball and other sports that can be contained to a gym, said Nathan Ranck, director of school-age care. And later, Ranck said, kids will play board games and watch some movies indoors to keep them occupied indoors.

"We keep them active and entertained throughout the day," Ranck said.

- Ashley Stalnecker

On the road again

UGI workers replacing underground gas lines on New Holland Avenue were not on site Thursday due to the poor air quality. However, contractor Kinsley Construction continued repaving the road where new lines were installed.

Workers on site said air quality was poor in the morning, but overall was better than it was on Wednesday. One worker who declined to be named said they were advised to takebreaks indoors if they noticed any effects from the air.

"You felt it in your throat yesterday a bit. It started tasting bad. But it'snot as bad today," he said.

A spokesperson for UGI said he did not know when its workers would return to the site.

"UGI has scaled back our operation and construction activities to limit strenuous outdoor work by our employees until air quality improves," UGI spokesperson Joe Swope said.

- Chris Reber

Barnstormers watch

As of early afternoon Thursday, the Barnstormers were still undecided about playing Thursday against Lexington at Clipper Magazine Stadium. Wednesday night's game had been canceled.

"We’ve been talking with our team doctors about what's safe and what's not for our athletes, and also for the fans,’’ said Michael Reynolds, the Barnstormers’ general manager."Our team doctors were in consultation with medical officials from (major league baseball), and we also talked to some people in the weather world who’ve been monitoring air quality.’’

Reynolds said the team decided at about 5:15 p.m. Wednesday to call the game, a scheduled 6:30 p.m. start, before fans were in the stadium.The club did allow groups in the stadium who had hospitality events scheduled in the ballpark's club boxes, although they stayed indoors. All fans who had tickets to Wednesday's game could use them for a future Barnstormers’ game, Reynolds said.

The Barnstormers and Lexington hit the road after Thursday night, so Reynolds said Wednesday's game may have to be made up in Lexington, when the Barnstormers are there for a three-game series June 27-29.

- Mike Gross

Masks around town

George Zagas, the owner of Aura Espresso Room on North Queen Street, knows to expect more customers to his walk-up window when the weather warms.

But, Zagas has noticed far less foot traffic at the cafe since Wednesday. On Thursday - a pleasant, temperate day despite the haziness - there was a noticeable decline in foot traffic downtown. Most benches and outdoor seating at restaurants remained empty along Queen and Prince streets

"Ever since the weather improved, we were getting busier, but the last two days, with what's happening with the air pollution, we saw a decline in our customers," Zagas said.

On Thursday, Zagas was still operating as usual. Customers have the choice of ordering from a walk-up window facing the street or entering the cafe.

Since Wednesday, Zagas and his team have been wondering if operating out of the window really is the best idea, since it requires opening the window quite frequently and letting outside air in.

"We don't really know what to do, we were debating whether we should have the window open or closed," Zagas said. "It is a concern, and we don't really know what's the right thing to do."

He hopes that there will be more advisement from the city on the proper course of action for small businesses if the situation persists.

Zagas also noticed some customers opted to wear masks this week.

One woman walking down Lemon Street wearing a surgical mask asked me where I’d found the KN95 mask that I’d been wearing. She seemed to be having trouble finding places to buy them.

However, mask-wearers were in the minority Thursday. Many seem indifferent to the smoke. Many outdoor workers, like painters painting the facade of a building on Orange Street a bright new red, continued on without masks.

— Olivia Schlinkman

Around the parks

The combination of a 70-degree day and local schools dismissing for the summer usually means playgrounds and parks would be packed with kids and families.

A midday walk around Lancaster city parks Thursday, however, told a different story.

Mayor Janice C. Stork Corridor Park, which has entrances on West Lemon and West James streets, was completely deserted at noon.

The scene at Musser Park was slightly more lively, though still quiet for a warm day. A few individuals sat on benches beneath the trees while a woman walked her dog.

Four children played a game at the playground, crawling up the ladders and speeding down the slides, despite the hazy weather.

"It kind of just reminds me of a campfire," said one grandmother watching her grandkids play on the playground. She wasn't worried by the smoke, especially since she and her grandkids were not high-risk individuals.

Pushing her child on the swing, one mom said that while the kids may have woken up that morning with slightly more itchy eyes or scratchy throats than normal, they were still going to enjoy the nice weather. If anything, though, they might spend a bit more time indoors than usual.

— Olivia Schlinkman

Business advice

The Lancaster County Chamber of Commerce issued advice Thursday for businesses with outdoor workers:


There are still four Lancaster-Lebanon League high school teams participating in an outdoor sport — lacrosse — with boys teams from Manheim Township, Lampeter-Strasburg and Cocalico, and Township's girls team all alive in the state playoffs.

The next round is Saturday.

When it comes to practicing in the haze and smokey conditions, L-S is following doctor's orders.

"With (Thursday) being the highest alert," L-S athletic director Branden Lippy said, "we spoke to our team doctor, and she recommended that we stay inside if we’re doing something high-intensity … workouts and drills. And if we’re doing anything low-intensity, we can be outside."

The Pioneers’ lacrosse team was set to be outside for about an hour Thursday afternoon, before shifting practice inside to the gym for the final hour.

Meanwhile, Cocalico AD Roger Czerwinski turned to the NCAA guidebook for air quality index precautions and procedures, and the Eagles’ lacrosse team practiced indoors Thursday morning to be safe.

– Jeff Reinhart


Slow day for visitors

A balmy day in June would normally have people flocking to Lititz Springs Park. But shortly after noon Thursday, the only congestion was from the ducks crowding around some of the few visitors who might feed them.

"It's absolutely less crowded," said Kyle Buckwalter, who helps manage the Lititz Springhouse food stand, which sells hamburgers and hot dogs inside the Lititz Borough Park. "The last two weekends, we completely sold out and we’ve been as busy as we ever are. But the last few days have just been really slow."

At the nearby Bulls Head Pub, only one couple sat at the normally coveted sidewalk tables as the restaurant's newly renovated patio at South Broad and Main streets was mostly empty at the beginning of the lunch hour.

Enjoying a business lunch where they discussed fundraising, John Christman and Merri Brown were the only customers occupying the sidewalk tables along Main Street. "I didn't even think about it," Christman said of the choice for al fresco dining.

Brown, who had taken the train from Philadelphia in the morning, said the air seemed worse there even though it was also noticeably poor in Lancaster County. While the smoky conditions did not make her think twice about eating outside, the sound of a passing truck did give her pause.

"Well, had I known about the noise, I might not have made that decision," Brown said. "But other than the noise, I didn't even think about it."

- Chad Umble

Taking care of the kids

Michelle Ziegler, director of Owl Hill Learning Center in Lititz, said the center is taking precautions – particularly by keeping children indoors and off the playground – as the air quality is deemed hazardous in Lancaster County.

Kids are performing all of their "gross motor activities," which refers to larger movement activities such as yoga or dancing, inside today and tomorrow, Ziegler said. And the center is keeping all windows closed and relying on the air conditioning unit to keep the kids cool.

Yesterday, she said, outside time was limited to the morning hours because air quality worsened throughout the day.

The center services children through pre-kindergarten to sixth grade in the summer months. Some of the older children involved in the center's summer program had questions about the smoky haze that teachers and mentors with the program explained.

Come Monday, Ziegler said she will check the air quality index to determine whether or not children should remain inside once more.

"We’re definitely monitoring the air quality index," Ziegler said.

- Ashley Stalnecker

Fewer pilots than usual flew in and out of Lancaster Airport on Thursday. The airport had low visibility due to the smoke, with the lowest levels. It was less than a mile Thursday morning.

As of 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, 42 flights had departed from or arrived at the airport. Last Thursday, there had been 162 departures and arrivals by 6:30 p.m.

Southern Airways Express, Lancaster's only commercial carrier, canceled a flight to Lancaster from Pittsburgh this morning due to crew availability, not the fires.

The smoke mainly grounded novice pilots, according to Austin Beiler, the airport's director of operations. He said the visibility wasn'tnearly bad enough to close the airport completely.

"Pretty much you'd have to have a fire on your airfield or directly adjacent with wind blowing," he said.

- Chris Reber

Despite being a warm June day in the 70s, the air quality has pushed some people away from going out to swim or enjoying the sun.

Katelyn Umberger, a lifeguard at Millersville Lions Club Pool, said the pool has seen a lot fewer visitors than usual over the past few days, most likely dueto the environmental conditions.

"Today's definitely slower than it usually (would be)," Umberger said.

Umberger also said the hazy air hasn't disrupted the pool's operations or any of the lifeguards’ ability to do their job, however.

"It hasn't really affected much," she said.

– Daniel Mader

The view across the Susquehanna River from the lowest spot in Lancaster County in Fulton Township is hazy on Thursday, June 8, 2023.

There was not much horizon to speak of at the lowest point in Lancaster County today. The spot where the Susquehanna River meets the lip of Peach Bottom Road in Fulton Township is 115 feet above sea level, which usually makes it a quality spot for fishing for people from both sides of the river.

Today, however, is empty, save for the chirping birds and the trout below the water, presumably swimming with an extra pep in their step for living to see another day.

Around 10 a.m., the haze was still thick enough that it was hard to make out specific shapes across the river, though the faint outline of the Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station could be seen through the mist.

On any other day, the lack of humans and piercing silence would have felt like a balm of sorts, but it was difficult not to peer out into that horizon-less horizon and feel anything but grim.

- Kevin Stairiker

State Rep. Izzy Smith-Wade-El, D-Lancaster City, blames climate change for the dangerous air quality in the county and hopes this event can trigger legislation to be enacted.

"As we have seen global temperatures rise, we've seen unusual weather patterns and we've seen that linked to more arid conditions and more out of control wildfires," Smith-Wade-El said. "And now, those weather patterns have brought the effects of that to the eastern seaboard."

"This is not the natural order of the world," Smith Wade-El said. He blames the actions of energy corporations in the state, and the lack of accountability they face for their contributions to air pollution.

He said legislation similar to a bill to regulate oil and gas wells, introduced by state Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Haverford Township, would help the environment and that climate-related problems, like wildfires drought and bad air quality, will force the General Assembly to act — including the Republican-led Senate.

State Sen. Ryan Aument, R-West Hempfield, said he thinks more data is needed to connect the increase in wildfires to climate change. He recommends residents download the Environmental Protection Agency app on their cellphones to keep track of their area's air quality.

A spokesperson for state Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Drumore Township, said the House GOP Leader is aware of the air quality concerns and is recommending residents follow federal guidelines.

- Jaxon White

Bomberger's in Warwick Township was down to one air purifier on its shelves early Thursday afternoon, June 8, 2023.

After seeing a surge in customers looking for ways to manage bad air, Bomberger's in Warwick Township was down to one air filter on the shelf early Thursday afternoon.

"We’ve been getting a higher-than-normal call volume about air purifiers mostly," said Matt Hoffman, a manager at the hardware and home goods store at 555 Furnace Hills Pike. "We have also seen some interest in masks and home filters like for your HVAC systems."

Hoffman said someone who bought an air filter this week drove more than an hour to the store to get what has quickly become a hot commodity. The store will likely get more air purifiers next week but Hoffman said he won't necessarily try to increase his supply of air purifiers over the long term since they might quickly become less sought after.

"We try not to over inventory in a panic, but we also want to have what customers want," he said.

- Chad Umble

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A thick, hazardous haze of wildfire smoke is looming over daily life for millions of people across the U.S. and Canada for a third day, and it's expected to persist as long as the weekend. The conditions Thursday sent asthma sufferers to hospitals, delayed flights, postponed ballgames and pushed back a White House Pride Month celebration. If the worrisome haze is an unnerving novelty for millions of people on the United States’ East Coast, it's a reminder of what other places experience more regularly. And scientists say it's a wake-up call about the future.

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East Hempfield Township No rest for roadwork Kid activities on hold Columbia/Marietta Conoy Township Landisville East Lampeter Township Ephrata Lancaster city Child care changes On the road again Barnstormers watch You voted: Masks around town Around the parks Business advice Around the Lancaster-Lebanon League Lititz Slow day for visitors Taking care of the kids Manheim Township Millersville Peach Bottom/Fulton Township State capitol Warwick Township Success! Error!