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RALEIGH – Air quality officials have issued an advisory for air pollution in eastern North Carolina on Wednesday and Thursday as smoke from wildfires drifts downwind. Residents from Elizabeth City to Washington, New Bern and Havelock could experience unhealthy air quality, depending on wind directions.
A 9,600-acre wildfire in Hyde County and 1,400-acre fire in Brunswick County are blanketing some coastal communities with smoke that could contain high levels of particle pollution. The Hyde County fire is located on both sides of U.S. Highway 264 near the Dare County line. The Brunswick County fire is located near Clemmons Road in Bolivia.
Satellite photos show plumes of smoke drifting downwind from the Hyde County fire. Winds were blowing toward the west on Wednesday but are expected to shift toward the north on Thursday. For additional information, visit www.ncair.org/ or https://www.facebook.com/NCAQFC/.
The state environmental agency does not have an air quality monitor close to either fire, but previous measurements have found very unhealthy air pollution levels in smoke directly 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.
The air pollution forecast 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.
Forecasters have predicted Code Red, or unhealthy air quality, in Dare, Tyrell and Hyde counties. In addition, residents could experience Code Orange conditions, or unhealthy for sensitive groups, in all or portions of the following counties: Beaufort, Brunswick, Camden, Carteret, Craven, Currituck, Dare, Hyde, Jones, Martin, Perquimans, Pamlico, Pasquotank, Pitt, Tyrrell and Washington. 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 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 Office of Environmental Assistance and Protection.