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Smoke

Photo by Terry Ballard from Wikimedia Commons
By Carolyn Sackstein

People across Long Island and New York City experienced the worst air quality in decades. On Wednesday, June 7, the local air quality was deemed the worst in the world. 

Canadian forest fires and the resulting atmospheric pollution have been the subject of social conversations over the past week. 

After the smoke cleared, TBR News Media took to the streets of downtown Port Jefferson, asking residents and visitors how they dealt with the smoky haze and whether they had any health issues resulting from their exposure.

— Photos by Carolyn Sackstein

 

 

Connie Linzer, Port Jefferson Station

Linzer “stayed in and used eye drops and nose spray,” adding that her eyes and nose were irritated by the pollution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheila Garafola, with dog Pinto, Port Jefferson 

“I’d take him out for shorter walks than I used to. Sometimes, I will even use a mask. I have many masks from the pandemic. I sometimes feel a little scratchy. It doesn’t affect me that negatively. I am aware that I am breathing in a few extra morsels. The dog is OK. He is just happy to be out there,” Garafola shared.

 

 

 

 

Victoria D’Angelo, with daughter Aidlee Zachary, and Diego Sanchez, Pensacola, Florida

“We flew into LaGuardia last Wednesday when they were having issues,” D’Angelo said. “Our flight was delayed about 45 minutes because of it. When we flew in, it was a little smoky, but it cleared out on Thursday.” Sanchez nodded in agreement. 

Zachary said, “I was coughing because of it the next day.”

 

 

 

John Suozzi, Mattituck

“Had to deal with it by virtue of traveling to work. It meant paper masks when I was outside and exposed for any period of time. Recirculation of air in the cabin of my car.” Suozzi added that he coped with the conditions by “staying indoors during the peak times of difficulty … when you could just spoon it up!”

 

 

 

 

Jacqueline Poten, Port Jefferson

“We just stayed inside.” When asked if anyone in her family had health issues from exposure to the pollution, Poten replied, “No, not us, but I heard stories about people having asthma, having trouble breathing.”

Canadian wildfire smoke reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the ground over Long Island. Photo by Terry Ballard from Wikimedia Commons

Brian Colle saw it coming, but the word didn’t get out quickly enough to capture the extent of the incoming smoke.

Dr. Jeffrey Wheeler, director of the emergency room at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson. File photo from St. Charles Hospital

The smoke from raging wildfires in Quebec, Canada, last week looked like a “blob out of a movie” coming down from the north, said Colle, head of the atmospheric sciences division at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. As the morning progressed, Colle estimated the chance of the smoke arriving in New York and Long Island was “80 to 90 percent.”

Colle, among other scientists, saw the event unfolding and was disappointed at the speed with which the public learned information about the smoke, which contained particulate matter that could affect human health.

“There’s a false expectation in my personal view that social media is the savior in all this,” Colle said. The Stony Brook scientist urged developing a faster and more effective mechanism to create a more aggressive communication channel for air quality threats.

Scientists and doctors suggested smoke from wildfires, which could become more commonplace amid a warming climate, could create physical and mental health problems.

Physical risks

People in “some of the extremes of ages” are at risk when smoke filled with particulates enters an area, said Dr. Jeffrey Wheeler, director of the emergency room at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson. People with cardiac conditions or chronic or advanced lung disease are “very much at risk.”

Dr. Robert Schwaner, medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine and chief of the Division of Toxicology at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook University

Dr. Robert Schwaner, medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine and chief of the Division of Toxicology at Stony Brook University Hospital, believed the health effects of wildfire smoke could “trickle down for about a week” after the smoke was so thick that it reduced the amount of sunlight reaching the ground.

Amid smoky conditions, people who take medicine for their heart or lungs need to be “very adherent to their medication regimen,” Schwaner said.

Physical symptoms that can crop up after such an event could include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness or breathing difficulties, particularly for people who struggle with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

When patients come to Schwaner with these breathing problems, he asks them if what they are experiencing is “typical of previous exacerbations.” He follows up with questions about what has helped them in the past.

Schwaner is concerned about patients who have had lung damage from COVID-related illness.

The level of vulnerability of those patients, particularly amid future wildfires or air quality events, will “play out over the next couple of years,” he said. Should those who had lung damage from COVID develop symptoms, that population might “need to stay in contact with their physicians.”

It’s unclear whether vulnerabilities from COVID could cause problems for a few years or longer, doctors suggested, although it was worth monitoring to protect the population’s health amid threats from wildfire smoke.

Local doctors were also concerned about symptoms related to eye irritations.

Schwaner doesn’t believe HEPA filters or other air cleansing measures are necessary for the entire population.

People with chronic respiratory illness, however, would benefit from removing particulates from the air, he added.

Wildfire particulates

Dr. Mahdieh Danesh Yazdi, an air pollution expert and environmental epidemiologist from Stony Brook University’s Program in Public Health. Photo from Stony Brook University

Area physicians suggested the particulates from wildfires could be even more problematic than those generated from industrial sources.

Burning biomass releases a range of toxic species into the air, said Dr. Mahdieh Danesh Yazdi, an air pollution expert and environmental epidemiologist from Stony Brook University’s Program in Public Health.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has done a “fairly decent job” of regulating industrial pollution over the last few decades “whereas wildfires have been increasing” amid drier conditions, Yazdi added.

In her research, Yazdi studies the specific particulate matter and gaseous pollutants that constitute air pollution, looking at the rates of cardiovascular and respiratory disease in response to these pollutants.

Mental health effects

Local health care providers recognized that a sudden and lasting orange glow, which blocked the sun and brought an acrid and unpleasant smell of fire, can lead to anxiety, which patients likely dealt with in interactions with therapists.

As for activity in the hospital, Dr. Poonam Gill, director of the Comprehensive Psychiatric Emergency Program at Stony Brook Hospital, said smoke from the wildfires did not cause any change or increase in the inpatient psychiatric patient population.

In addition to the eerie scene, which some suggested appeared apocalyptic, people contended with canceled outdoor events and, for some, the return of masks they thought they had jettisoned at the end of the pandemic.

“We had masks leftover” from the pandemic, and “we made the decision” to use them for an event for his son, said Schwaner.

When Schwaner contracted the delta variant of COVID-19, he was coughing for three to four months, which encouraged him to err on the side of caution with potential exposure to smoke and the suspended particulates that could irritate his lungs.

Photo from Pixabay

Looking out the window on a sunny day, one might notice a not-so-subtle haziness in the sky. However, that haze isn’t harmless clouds or fog, it’s smoke that’s traveled a far distance across the nation from raging wildfires in California and Canada.

As concerns grow over the impact of these wildfires stretching their way over to the East Coast, Long Islanders are beginning to become uneasy about the repercussions the hazy smoke might have among residents. 

With multiple reports of poor air quality in the past few weeks, people who have vulnerable conditions such as asthma, emphysema, or heart disease need to be wary and avoid going outside or doing strenuous activity. 

“There is something called fine particulate matter, which is very small ash,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “The cause of concern is that this is the type of material that causes respiratory ailments. It irritates the throat and respiratory system, but most importantly fine particulate matter can lodge in your lungs and make microscopic perforations, much like asbestos.”

According to Esposito, It is highly likely the ash will also be deposited into Long Island’s estuary and could affect the marine environment. However, it is uncertain exactly how much will accumulate due to the variables of wind speed and the amount of ash that will be pushed toward the Island. 

“The East Coast should absolutely have an increased concern of weather events associated with climate change,” she added. “What we are having right now is an increase of torrential rain, and an increase in intensification of storms which means that hurricanes that might normally be a Category 1 [the lowest] now have the ability to reach 2, 3, or 4.” Esposito said. 

Kevin Reed. Photo from Stony Brook University

Although air pollution issues are nothing new to New York, there are always certain times of the year, particularly in the summertime, that fine particulate matter can get trapped. The question of the future frequency of surrounding wildfires still stands.

While Long Island is experiencing a rainy season, California is currently facing one of the worst droughts in history. Within a two-year period, rain and snow totals in parts of the West have been 50 percent less than average.  

“Just because Long Island is having a really wet season right now doesn’t mean it couldn’t shift later this year,” said Kevin Reed, a Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences researcher. 

According to Reed, the winds that blow from out West don’t always streamline toward the East Coast. Direction in wind patterns could cause the air flow to “wobble,” so it is uncertain whether or not Long Island may face more smoke pollution in the future. 

“Drought is certainly becoming more severe, potentially longer lasting, and at a larger extent, which means larger parts of land will be susceptible to wildfire,” Reed said.

Adding that wildfires are typically a natural occurrence and benefits land by replenishing it, Reed said the extent of the current wildfires is most likely a result of climate change and has potential to harm people and the environment.

“Air pollution could really affect our human health, especially to certain groups that are more susceptible to issues with air quality,” he said. “Even if it’s here for one day it could have an impact and of course the impact is going to be multiplied if it’s a longer-term event.” 

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Ribs are all fired up. Photo from Jonathan Levine/Smoke Shack Blues

By Steve Mosco

Thousands of years ago, mankind crawled out of its primordial origins, stood upright and decided to quit choking down chunks of raw flesh. These prehistoric freethinkers put meat to heat, creating a ritual that continues to compel the carnivore spirit in an endless quest for the slow-smoked supernatural.

The ritual is barbecue and it goes well beyond hot dogs and hamburgers hastily seared on a dirty backyard grill. It is a culinary style reserved for the meticulously obsessive chef, as cooking times can range from several hours to more than half a day and doneness is measured in burnt ends and smoke rings.

“Smoking is such 
an important 
cooking technique. 
In barbecue, it might be the most important.” — Eric Rifkin, Bobbique in Patchogue

Meat, time, heat and smoke; there are no secrets in barbecue, just obsession.

And the obsession is heating up on Long Island. A decade or so in the past, the number of barbecue joints on the Island could be counted on one sauce-stained hand. Now, slabs of brisket, piles of pork, racks of ribs and links of sausage are readily available in napkin-destroying glory in a growing number of eateries.

To travel the Island seeking out these restaurants is to explore the diverse nature of barbecue itself.

Barbecue is a fundamental element in America’s cooking culture; it is the only truly American cuisine, and like everything else purely American, its form is contingent on its regional influences.

There’s Memphis-style pit barbecue, which is high on the hog in rib and pulled form, served in a tangy, thin tomato-based sauce. The Carolinas offer two distinct forms of ‘cue, with North giving us spice and vinegar basted pork and the South opting a sauce that is more mustard based. Kansas City style cooks its meats super slow and super low over hickory wood, served with a thick and sweet molasses sauce. In Texas, meat is king, as dinosaur-sized beef ribs are served alongside a heaping portion of brisket and sauce is usually an afterthought.

St. Louis Spare Ribs
Ingredients: 4-5 pounds pork back “spare” ribs; Your favorite dry rub; Mustard; Your favorite barbecue sauce; Wood chunks or chips for added smoke (optional)
Directions: To start, choose some fresh pork spare ribs. Preheat your grill to 225-250 F. Wash and dry ribs, then trim and remove the membrane. Now rub in mustard on all sides. Lightly apply dry rub seasoning to both sides of the slab. Let stand for 15-30 minutes. Allow ribs to come to room temperature just before placing on the grill. Place a water or basting pan on the grill or within the coals for added moisture (optional). Barbecue at 225-250 F opposite coals with closed grill lid for 3-4 hours. Mop the ribs several times. To keep from overcooking, remove the racks when they pull apart easily, with meat still attached to the bone. Serve with your favorite barbecue sauce.

Barbecue on Long Island is trending toward an amalgamation of styles, with professionally trained chefs taming fire to give the public what it wants.

Bobbique in Patchogue (70 W. Main St.) specializes in Memphis-style pit barbecue. For chef Eric Rifkin, it all started with an inspirational trip to Memphis, Tennessee. With a menu that includes such staples as St. Louis-style ribs, brisket and pulled pork, as well as barbecued salmon and shrimp, Rifkin’s slow-cooking technique utilizes an authentic, soulful southern charm that acts as a great equalizer at mealtime.

“Barbecue is a communal experience,” says Rifkin. “People come together, roll up their sleeves, feel, touch the meat. It’s become a comfort thing. It’s a ‘talk to the table next to you’ kind of meal.”

Rifkin is a classically trained chef with an impressive resume. In transferring his refined talents to the decidedly less polished cooking style of the pit, Rifkin developed his own art of smoke, one of barbecue’s essential elements.

“Smoking is such an important cooking technique. In barbecue, it might be the most important,” he says. “The smoke imparts flavor into cuts of meat that were at one time less desirable. The right kind of smoke used the correct way changes everything.”

Another chef blurring the lines between barbecue boundaries is Jonathan Levine, whose restaurant Smoke Shack Blues opens in Port Jefferson this September. A chef with an origin story that includes fancy cuisine of the French-Italian lineage, Levine’s career trajectory was altered by traveling through the Carolinas and Texas during a family vacation.

It was during that trip he experienced the powerful effects of low-temp cooking combined with smoke. The science of low and slow with smoke melts the fat within, and that translucent succulence bastes the meat from the inside while the outer bark encases the juices until it’s ready for the cutting board.

“Everything is kept inside the meat,” says Levine. “The same cut of meat that is unremarkable cooked one way is made incredible when cooked in true barbecue style. All of those juices rendering inside for 14 hours or so makes for a completely different eating experience.”

Levine recently gave locals a taste of what to expect from his forthcoming restaurant at multiple events at Benner’s Farm in East Setauket. He offered pork shoulder for Western Carolina style pulled pork, smoked barbecue chicken, pork ribs and even tins of his own barbecue dry rub.

“It’s so easy for a chef to toss his meat in a sauce,” he says. “But with a dry rub, there is really nowhere to hide. It is all about the meat.”

Molasses BBQ Chicken
Ingredients for glaze: Cider vinegar — 1⁄4 cup (4 tablespoons); Brown mustard — 1⁄2 cup (8 tablespoons); Molasses — 1 cup (16 tablespoons); Salt — 4 teaspoons; Fresh black pepper — 2 teaspoons
Other Ingredients: Chicken — 6 pounds; Salt — to taste; Pepper — to taste
Directions: Preheat grill. In a pan pour in cider vinegar, add mustard and mix. Add in the molasses, mix well, season with salt and pepper. Place the pan on hot coals and allow to simmer. Place the chicken pieces over indirect heat on grill and season with salt and pepper. Cover and grill at 350 F and cook for about 1 hour. After 20 minutes of cooking, brush the chicken with the glaze after every 15 minutes. When about to be done, sear over direct heat for few minutes.

The nature of Long Island’s cross-cultural barbecue style has even influenced a man who didn’t require an illuminating trip to America’s smoked-meat meccas. Lloyd Adams is a Texan through and through. A marriage brought him to Long Island in 1995 and by 2003 he started Laura’s BBQ Shack, a traveling Texas-style barbecue smoker that rolls into events like a traveling carnival of meat.

After a few years of struggling to find a foothold in the Island’s barbecue scene, Adams’ big break came at an event hosted by the Holbrook Chamber of Commerce. Long before many of the Island’s barbecue restaurants were even a gleam in a chef’s eye, Adams was schooling locals on true barbecue.

“I spent a lot of time explaining it as a cooking method,” says Adams. “I had to explain that the meat might be pink, but it is not raw. That pink you see is from the authentic smoke and the low-temperature cooking.”

But as barbecue continues to marinate and mature on the Island, people are becoming savvier; they are learning to embrace those pink smoke rings and burnt ends, according to Adams.

“People are much more educated about barbecue these days,” he says. “People aren’t going for it multiple times a week like they might Chinese or Italian, but it is growing.”

The ever-evolving Long Island barbecue scene will likely continue to expand to new flavor territories as each new generation cuts through the smoke and slides up to flames. Even in Adams’ own enterprise, the Texas-strong style has morphed to include much more pork than is usually found on slabs in the Lone Star state.

That’s merely one example of the ever-changing story of barbecue culture. And on Long Island, this quintessentially American style of making meat better will continue to raise its flavor profile.

“Whether you are cooking beef or pork or using one style or another, it is important to take pride in your barbecue and always be your own worst critic,” says Adams. “People here are willing to listen and to learn and I suppose that’s a good sign.”

Incident shut down part of Main Street on Friday afternoon

Firefighters exit Renarts, where there was a heavy smoke condition on the second floor on Friday afternoon. Photo by Rohma Abbas

The Huntington Fire Department responded to a call of heavy smoke at Renarts that shut down a part of Main Street on Friday afternoon.

An employee of the shoe store near Wall Street called the fire department at about 12:45 p.m. after going upstairs to grab a pair of shoes for a customer and discovering smoke on the second floor. There was a little bit of smoke in the first room and a lot of smoke in the second room, he recalled at the scene on Friday.

“I was coughing a lot,” Paul Rodriguez said. “I couldn’t even stand up for a minute.”

He ran down to place the call to the fire department, which responded in five minutes, he said. The chief got to the scene in less than two minutes.

Rodriguez said fire officials told him there was an “electrical problem” that was being handled.

Chief Robert Berry told reporters at the scene there was no fire, but a “heavy smoke condition” on the second floor. Officials are still investigating what caused the smoke condition but by about 2 p.m., it was safe to go back into the store.

There were no injuries.