A new report analyzing raw air quality data in areas around the Winston Weaver fertilizer plant fire is raising questions. Researchers are making several recommendations to environmental officials.

The study from the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League claims air quality issues were downplayed by officials during the chemical fire — even when air quality conditions were unhealthy or hazardous.

The biggest concern is PM 2.5 or fine particulate, which can lodge deeply into the lungs.

An online tool from the Environmental Protection Agency shows the area within a one-mile radius is considered an environmental justice community with a high percentage of minority and low-income residents. Mark Barker with the organization says it's an area with many risk factors.

"Bad air quality affects everyone, but if you have already got high asthma and heart disease rates then that's an extra precaution that needs to be taken,” says Barker.

The report lays out several recommendations for local, state and federal officials to consider and enact during industrial incidents. Those include more transparency in reporting air quality and associated health impacts, having environmental experts speak at all press briefings, and finding ways to release data more quickly to the public.

Follow WFDD's Keri Brown on Twitter @kerib_news

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