Thursday, July 7, 2011

Air quality officials continue health notice for central and eastern North Carolina

Rains have improved air quality, but shifting winds could carry smoke from wildfires further north and west in central and eastern North Carolina on Friday, air quality officials say.

Residents as far west as the Triangle and Fayetteville and as far north as Rocky Mount could experience unhealthy air quality, and people are advised to avoid or reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors if they can see and smell smoke.

Wildfires in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Dare and Hyde counties, the Holly Shelter Game Land in Pender County and along the Bladen and Cumberland county line are affecting communities with smoke that could contain high levels of particle pollution. Smoke from the fires is drifting downwind. For more information about the North Carolina fires, check out the link on the national interagency website.

Air quality monitors operated by the N.C. Division of Air Quality, or DAQ, have shown elevated particle pollution due to smoke from the fire. People who live in counties close to the fire, particularly sensitive groups, should limit their outdoor activities if they can see and smell heavy smoke.

Some of the highest particle pollution levels that DAQ has ever measured were in smoke plumes from wildfires. Recent concentrations have reached Code Purple, or very unhealthy, at times in counties close to the fires. The highest particle concentrations have tended to occur during the evening and early morning hours. Particles can be harmful to breathe and contribute to haze and other air quality problems.

The air pollution forecast for Friday shows that fine particle levels in the coastal region could exceed the standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over 24 hours. High particle levels can impair breathing and aggravate symptoms in people with heart and respiratory problems and irritate the lungs in healthy individuals. People with chronic lung and heart ailments as well as children and older adults should reduce physical exertion and outdoor activity.

Fine particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs and be absorbed into the bloodstream, causing or aggravating heart and lung diseases. Persons most susceptible to particle pollution include those with heart and respiratory conditions, older adults and young children. Symptoms of exposure to high particle levels include: irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; coughing; phlegm; chest pain or tightness; shortness of breath and asthma attacks.

 More information on air quality in North Carolina can be found at the DAQ website. More information on the health effects of smoke can be found online.

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