Code Red Air Quality alert forecasted for Hamilton Co. Wednesday
Wildfire smoke has caused air quality to become so bad at certain times of the day even the most healthy people should take caution.
UPDATE: The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau is forecasting that Hamilton County will be at a Code Red Air Quality Alert for Wednesday.
Air quality is forecast to be 151 for fine particles which is in the Unhealthy range. People with heart or lung disease, older adults, active adults and children should AVOID strenuous outdoor activities. Everyone else should cut back or reschedule outdoor activities.
The Air Pollution Bureau says air quality can change throughout the day and will notify the public if air quality improves or worsens.
PREVIOUS STORY: Wildfires are burning in almost every county in the Channel 3 viewing area, the smoke is making it hard to see and to breathe. On Monday the air quality report shows Chattanooga is under a Code Orange alert. Cherokee County, North Carolina is under a Code Purple alert for Tuesday.
But we're now learning the air quality is so bad at certain times of the day even the most healthy people should take caution.
The iconic Chattanooga landscape attracts visitors from across the country. Unfortunately, the Willeys from Massachusetts won't get the pictures they were hoping for.
"We wanted to get the nice colors and we get this nice grey effect," Bob Willey said.
"In New England we get snow days, that they didn't have a smoke day for the kids because it was pretty smokey," Maureen Willey said.
The smoke from nearby wildfires is no longer just an inconvenience. It's a health risk.
Monday's hourly updates show some of the worst air quality levels the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau has ever seen.
"Well in our parts it's been off the charts. I mean it is on the chart but we've never seen anything like this," said Director Bob Colby.
The air quality index has been recording numbers between 100 and 200. Typically, these readings never even reach triple digits.
"Those are either in the teens or the single digits is what we would be seeing this time of year," Colby said.
The highest levels were recorded at 10 am Monday.
Colby said it appears the air quality is the worst in the morning then clears up a bit in the afternoon but it's still categorized as "unhealthy" for everyone.
"Obviously you shouldn't be out jogging this time of morning with readings like that even if you are a healthy adult."
Dr. Patrick Koo, a Pulmonologist at Erlanger Health Systems, said anyone who has to be outside for several hours a day should wear a mask or could experience some unpleasant symptoms.
"Irritation of the airway, making it inflamed and itchy and so these patients basically get short of breath," Dr. Koo said.
Erlanger Hospital has treated nearly 100 patients for shortness of breath since November 1st.
The hospital says they have treated 98 patients, the highest number of patients with this complaint was Thursday, November 10th with 15 patients compares to three weeks ago when there were five.
For people who want to use a face mask to protect against some of the smoke, it's recommended to get a "N95" mask. Dr. Koo said a face mask doesn't completely protect against the smoke particles, but does provide some relief.
The daily air quality report has been "Code Orange" in Chattanooga for the past several days. The report is the average number of the last 24 hours.
So while the day's average may not appear to be severe, a particular part of the day could have a much higher reading and be considered "very unhealthy."
Daily updates can be found he hourly updates can be found on the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau website. Hourly updates are available through the Environmental Protection Agency's website AirNow.Gov.