Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Air Quality Officials Upgrade Health Notice for Eastern North Carolina

RALEIGH – Air quality officials upgraded an advisory today for air pollution in eastern North Carolina on Wednesday and Thursday as smoke from a Dare County wildfire continues drifting to the south and west. 
 
Residents from the coast to the Triad could experience unhealthy air quality, and sensitive groups of people are advised to avoid or reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. 
 
The fire in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Dare and Hyde counties is blanketing some coastal communities with heavy smoke that contains high levels of particle pollution. The fire is centered about 20 miles south of Manns Harbor, and satellite photos show a large plume of smoke drifting downwind. For information about the fire, check out the link on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website,http://www.inciweb.org/incident/2218/.
 
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, with concentrations reaching unhealthy levels at times in Goldsboro, Jamesville, Tarboro and Raleigh. DAQ’s monitor in Jamesville recorded unhealthy particle levels – higher than 200 micrograms per cubic meter – on Wednesday morning.
 
“Our monitor closest to the fire is reporting very high pollution levels at times,” DAQ Director Sheila Holman said. “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. Particles can be harmful to breathe and contribute to haze and other air quality problems.
 
The air pollution forecast for Wednesday and Thursday predicts that fine particle levels across much of eastern North Carolina 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 respiratory problems, and irritate the lungs in healthy individuals. People with chronic lung ailments and children should reduce physical exertion and outdoor activity.
 
Forecasters have predicted Code Red or unhealthy air quality in southern Dare, Tyrrell, Martin and Washington counties as well as all of Beaufort, Craven, Green, Hyde, Jones, Lenoir, Pamlico and Pitt counties. Residents could experience Code Orange conditions, or air quality that is unhealthy for sensitive groups, in the following counties: Bladen, Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Cumberland, Dare, Edgecombe, Franklin, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston, Lee, Martin, Nash, Onslow, Pender, Robeson, Sampson, Wake and Wilson counties. Intermittent Code Orange conditions are possible are far west and north as Rockingham, Asheboro, Greensboro and Durham.
 
The forecast means people who are sensitive to air pollution should avoid or reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. Sensitive groups include the elderly, children, people who work or exercise outdoors, and those with heart conditions and respiratory ailments such as asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. Everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion.
 
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, the elderly 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.
 
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