Air Quality Officials Continue Health Notice for North Carolina

RALEIGH

Air quality officials are continuing their advisory for air pollution in North Carolina on Wednesday as smoke from numerous wildfires blankets the region. Residents in much of the mountains, foothills and Piedmont regions could experience unhealthy air quality, depending on wind directions.

About 15 wildfires covering more than 45,000 acres of land are burning in Western North Carolina, and smoke from those fires can contain high levels of air pollution.  Residents throughout the area could be exposed to Code Red (unhealthy) or Code Orange (unhealthy for sensitive groups) levels of particle pollution.

The state Division of Air Quality and the U.S. Forest Service have set up a number of special mobile air monitors throughout the region, along with permanent air monitors in Asheville, Bryson City, Hickory, Charlotte and other locations.  These monitors have measured unhealthy to very unhealthy levels of air pollution in smoke downwind of wildfires. The primary pollutant of concern is fine particles, which are extremely small particles and liquid droplets in the air. Particles can be harmful to breathe and contribute to haze and other air quality problems.

“Local air quality conditions can vary widely due to winds, the spread of fires and other weather factors,” said Mike Abraczinskas, deputy director of the division. “Residents should limit their time outside if they observe low visibility and odors due to smoke, which indicates that the air is probably unhealthy to breathe.”

The national air quality standard for fine particles is 35 micrograms per cubic meter averaged over 24 hours. A number of air quality monitors in the mountains and the foothills regions have exceeded the standard, in some locations for much of the past week.

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.

For Wednesday, forecasters have predicted Code Red conditions, or unhealthy, for the south-central mountains, southern foothills and the southwest Piedmont, including the Charlotte metro area.  Code Orange conditions, or unhealthy for sensitive groups, are forecasted for the western mountains. See the air quality forecast map for more details.

The forecast means everyone in these areas should avoid or reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors, and sensitive groups should avoid any activity outside. 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.

Fine particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs and be absorbed into the bloodstream, causing or aggravating heart and lung diseases. People 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. In extreme cases, particle pollution can cause premature death.

The N.C. Division of Air Quality issues daily air forecasts for the Triangle, Charlotte, Asheville, Hickory, Fayetteville and Rocky Mount metropolitan areas. In the Triad, forecasts are issued by the Forsyth County Office of Environmental Assistance and Protection. For more information, visit www.ncair.org or https://www.facebook.com/NCAQFC/.

More information about particular wildfires can be found at: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov/state/34/0/.

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