A Forsyth County environmental official is sounding alarms about the air pollution resulting from the ongoing fire at the Winston Weaver fertilizer plant. Minor Barnette, the director of the Forsyth County Office of Environmental Assistance and Protection, says the fire has released particles that can pose particularly serious health risks.

WFDD's April Laissle spoke with him about these risks, and what the public can do to protect themselves.

Interview Highlights

On potential health impacts of inhaling smoke particles:

The health effects associated with exposure to air pollution are determined by the concentration of the pollutants, or how high the levels are in the air, the duration of exposure, and also the susceptibility of each person based on their age and their health conditions. Some of the most important particulate matter of primary concern for health impact we refer to as PM 2.5, because the particles are 2.5 microns in size, so you can't see them. 

But they're not just pieces of dust. They are microscopic droplets of reactive chemicals. And when a microscopic droplet that's that small is inhaled, it makes it all the way into the deepest part of our lungs into the alveoli. And it dissolves in the liquid of the lungs and can pass into the bloodstream. So it can contribute to inflammation. And heart attack and stroke and other negative outcomes for people.

On how to minimize risk:

It's important to try to limit the duration of the exposure. And in an event like this, I'm not trying to oversimplify this. But don't breath the smoke, stay away from the smoke, if you can see it, if you can smell it, you need to take evasive action. If someone could smell it outside, but not inside, then they should stay inside. If they start smelling it strongly inside their home or wherever they are, they need to relocate to a different place until it subsides.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This transcript was lightly edited for clarity.

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