RALEIGH – Air quality officials issued an advisory today for air pollution in eastern North Carolina as smoke from a Craven County wildfire drifts downwind. Residents in Carteret, Craven, Jones, and Onslow and Pamlico counties could experience unhealthy air quality, depending on wind directions.
An 8,000-acre wildfire in the Croatan National Forest County is blanketing some coastal communities with heavy smoke that could contain high levels of particle pollution. The fire is centered between Havelock and New Bern, and satellite photos show a large plume of smoke drifting downwind.
The N.C. Division of Air Quality, or DAQ, does not have a monitor close to the fire, but previous measurements have found very unhealthy air pollution levels in smoke directly downwind of wildfires. Some of the highest particle pollution levels that DAQ has ever measured were in smoke plumes from 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.
The air pollution forecast for Monday estimates that fine particle levels 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.
Residents could experience Code Orange conditions, or unhealthy for sensitive groups, today in the Carteret, Craven, Jones, Onslow and Pamlico counties. Air quality monitors as far west as Raleigh have shown increased particle pollution due to smoke from the fire, but concentrations had not reached unhealthy levels in the Triangle by mid-morning Monday.
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. 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 Environmental Affairs Department. For additional information, call 1-888-RU4NCAIR (1-888-784-6224) or visit the DAQ website atwww.ncair.org or Forsyth County’s website at,http://www.co.forsyth.nc.us/EnvAffairs/