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September 23, 2017

Smoke Exposure and Masks Available

As the U.S. Forest Service manages several fires in and around Jackson County, Jackson County Department of Public Health is advising residents and visitors to be aware of possible smoke exposure from the wildfires in the Western North Carolina area. Those in our area should be aware of the air quality guide and color guide index, which can be found at North Carolina Air Quality Forecasts. www.ncair.org / 1-888-RU4NCAIR (1-888-784-6224).  The current status of Jackson County air quality is coded Red – Unhealthy.


Smoke can irritate your eyes and respiratory system, as well as worsen chronic heart and lung diseases. Older adults and children are more likely to be affected by health threats from the smoke.  Due to the smoke from current wildfires in the Western North Carolina region, it is recommended that children, older individuals, and those with pre-existing heart and lung problems should avoid outdoor activity, when they can smell or see the smoke in their immediate area and whenever the Air Quality Guide indicates unhealthy air quality.   Effects can be as mild as a headache; eye, nose or throat irritation; or as serious as triggered asthma episodes or stresses on weakened cardiovascular systems.  Adverse health impacts may also be seen in normally healthy individuals if they are engaged in strenuous outdoor activities during periods of exposure to ground-level smoke.


Wearing a special mask called a “particulate respirator” can also help protect your lungs from wildfire smoke.  However, respirators should only be used after first implementing other, more effective methods of exposure reduction, including staying indoors and reducing activity.  For sensitive individuals, the options of temporary relocation out of the smoky area, if possible, should be considered.
Surgical and standard dust masks are not designed to capture a large percentage of small particles and will not prevent the wearer from breathing in airborne particles such as contained in wildland smoke.  N95 particulate filtering face piece respirators or respiratory protection devices with a higher level of protection are more appropriate for the public for this type of inhalation hazard.  If you have a heart of lung problem, ask your doctor before using a mask.


With the air quality at an unhealthy stage, the Jackson County Health Department is making N95 masks available at no charge for those who need them to go outdoors.  These masks will be available at the Health Department located at 538 Scotts Creek Road from 9:00am – 4:30 pm starting on Wednesday, November 16th.  The Cashiers Glenville Volunteer Fire Department will also have these masks available.  They are located at 579 Frank Allen Road.  Other locations will be available in the future as needed.
Again, avoiding these areas of smoke is the best recommendation, but if that is not possible, indoor air can be kept cleaner by keeping windows and doors closed as much as possible. If you have health concerns, please contact your doctor. If you have respiratory problems, are having difficulty breathing and need immediate medical attention please call 9-1-1.


Please stay tuned to local radio stations and CodeRed messaging for up-to-date information.  If you are not already registered for CodeRed alerts, please visit the Jackson County website (www.jacksonnc.org). A link is found at the bottom of the home page.  More information on the area wildfires can be found at the Fire Incident Information website: http://inciweb.nwcg.gov .

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