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N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Release: Immediate
Date: June 22, 2012
Contact: Jamie Kritzer
Phone: 919-707-8602


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 Saturday as smoke from a Craven County wildfire drifts downwind.

However, forecasts call for improving air quality conditions during the weekend, thanks to firefighting efforts and more favorable weather conditions.

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

The nearly 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 noticeable plume of smoke drifting downwind. Prevailing winds are expected to blow toward the northeast on Saturday, 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 Saturday 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 Orange or unhealthy air quality for sensitive groups in portions of Beaufort, Carteret, Craven, Jones and Pamlico 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 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.

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: Fri June 22 16:10:55 2012
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