WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (WGHP) — Environmental experts are looking at how destructive the Winston weaver fertilizer plant fire could have been if not for swift action.
High levels of pollution caused by the burning of chemicals could have had detrimental health effects.
The first few days of the fire, there was an unsettling amount of pollution in the air.
“I was very concerned,” said Minor Barnette, director of the Forsyth County Environmental Assistance and Protection Office.
Everybody within a one-mile radius was evacuated to protect them from a possible explosion and chemicals in the air. But the director of environmental assistance and protection for Forsyth County says that mile may not have been far enough.
“The levels we saw were high enough that they could have affected anybody that breathed it for a significant period of time,” Barnette said. “I think it was probably adequate to keep people safe from the devastation of the explosion, but the smoke and air pollution was migrating a lot more than a mile away from the fire.”
According to the EPA… air quality is determined by how much particulate matter is in the air.
Over 300 micrograms of particulate matter in the air over an 8 hour period is considered hazardous. Breathing that kind of air could cause serious health effects. The week of the fire, particulate matter in the air reached 1750 microns within six hours of burning.
“During this event what we’re talking about were unusually high levels but for a limited amount of time. So what we were trying to communicate to the community was to avoid the smoke. Don’t breathe the smoke don’t go out in it.”
Experts say if you did happen to breathe in some of the fumes, there shouldn’t be any long-term effects.
“The risk for each person would be determined by the intensity and duration of their exposure and their age and health conditions.”
Air quality returned back to normal within a week of the fire. Barnette says if you did breathe in large amounts of smoke during those first few days you might have experienced some short-term respiratory discomfort.