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N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Release: Immediate
Date: June 21, 2012
Contact: Tom Mather, PIO
Phone: (919) 707-8446


Air Quality Officials Continue Health Notice for Eastern North Carolina

RALEIGH - Air quality officials continued an advisory for air pollution in eastern North Carolina on Friday as smoke from a Craven County wildfire drifts downwind.

Residents from Morehead City to Havelock, New Bern, Oriental and Aurora could experience unhealthy air quality, depending on wind directions.

The 22,000-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. Prevailing winds are expected to blow toward the northeast on Friday, but smoke movement could shift due to calm periods and sea breezes.

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 Friday 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 and outdoor activity.

Forecasters have predicted Code Red or unhealthy air quality in portions of Craven and Pamlico counties. Also, residents could experience Code Orange conditions, or unhealthy for sensitive groups, in those areas as well as Beaufort, Carteret and Jones counties. Air quality monitors as far west as Raleigh and as far north as Tarboro and Jamesville have shown increased particle pollution at times due to smoke from the fire, and smoky conditions may be encountered throughout the central and northern coastal region.

The forecast means people who are sensitive to air pollution should avoid or reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors. Sensitive groups include 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. 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. For more information, people can contact the Environmental Health Section of the N.C. Division of Public Health at 919-707-5854.

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 at www.ncair.org or Forsyth County's website at, http://www.co.forsyth.nc.us/eap/.

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Diana Kees, Communications Director
Phone (919) 715-4112
1601 Mail Service Center 
Raleigh, NC 27699-1601
diana.kees@ncdenr.gov
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Last Modified: Thu June 21 14:39:46 2012
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