RALEIGH – Air quality officials expanded an advisory for air pollution in eastern North Carolina on Wednesday as the Craven County wildfire grows and smoke drifts downwind.
Residents from Cape Carteret to Morehead City, Havelock, New Bern, Washington, Plymouth and Columbia could experience unhealthy air quality, depending on wind directions.
The wildfire in the Croatan National Forest County has grown to more than 21,000 acres, generating heavy smoke that can 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. Winds are expected to blow toward the northeast on Wednesday.
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 Wednesday 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, older adults and children should reduce physical exertion, particularly when outdoors.
Forecasters have predicted Code Red or unhealthy air quality in all or parts of Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Jones and Pamlico counties. In addition, residents could experience Code Orange conditions, or unhealthy for sensitive groups, in those counties as well as Dare, Hyde, Martin, Pitt, Tyrrell and Washington counties. Air quality monitors as far west as Raleigh and as far north as Tarboro and Jamesville have shown increased particle pollution due to smoke from the fire, and smoky conditions may be encountered throughout the central and northern Coastal Plain.
The forecast means people who are sensitive to air pollution should avoid or reduce prolonged or heavy exertion, particularly when outdoors. Sensitive groups include the older adults, 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 Office of Environmental Assistance and Protection. 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/eap/