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Air Quality Alert Includes Part of Outer Banks for Memorial Day Weekend

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Air quality officials continued an advisory today for air pollution in northeastern North Carolina over the Memorial Day weekend due to smoke from a Dare County wildfire.

Residents from mainland Dare County to Plymouth, Edenton, Elizabeth City, Manteo and the northern Outer Banks could experience unhealthy air quality, and sensitive groups of people are advised to avoid or reduce prolonged or heavy exertion outdoors.

The fire in the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in Dare and Hyde counties is affecting some coastal communities with smoke that could contain high levels of particle pollution. The fire is centered near Stumpy Point, and smoke is drifting downwind. For information about the fire, check out the link on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website,http://www.inciweb.org/incident/2218/. The fire has been ongoing for over a week. Some folks, myself included, have occasionally been able to detect the scent of the fire as far inland as Greensboro.

Air quality monitors operated by the N.C. Division of Air Quality, or DAQ, have shown elevated particle pollution due to smoke from the fire. People in counties close to the fire, particularly sensitive groups, should limit their outdoor activities if they can see and smell heavy smoke.

Some of the highest particle pollution levels that DAQ has ever measured were in smoke plumes from wildfires. Particles can be harmful to breathe and contribute to haze and other air quality problems.

The air pollution forecast for Saturday through Tuesday predicts that fine particle levels in the northeastern corner of North Carolina 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 heart and respiratory problems, and irritate the lungs in healthy individuals. People with chronic lung and heart ailments as well as children and the elderly should reduce physical exertion and outdoor activity.

Forecasters have predicted Code Red to Code Purple, or unhealthy to very unhealthy air quality, in much of mainland Dare County. Code Orange conditions, or air quality that is unhealthy for sensitive groups, could occur in all or parts of the following counties: Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell and Washington counties.

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. Persons 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.