Code Red air quality alert downgraded to Code Orange for North Carolina

Wednesday, June 7, 2023
Code Red air quality alert downgraded to Code Orange
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The Code Red air quality alert for North Carolina has been downgraded to a Code Orange.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Smoke from Canadian wildfires is causing air quality concerns in North Carolina.

ABC11 Air Quality Tracker

Wednesday brought the first Code Red air quality alert to North Carolina since 2012.

However, by the early afternoon, the air quality alert had been downgraded to Code Orange.

Code Red alerts mean the air is unhealthy for the general public. Code Orange means the air quality is suboptimal and could cause problems for older adults, younger children and people with respiratory conditions.

SEE ALSO | 'They deserve a voice': Air pollution disproportionately harming minority communities in NC

"Business as usual."

Construction workers continued working outside despite the warning Wednesday.

"(We've got) bills to pay," said Clayton resident Mike McClamroch. "I saw (the alert on) the news this morning, but you got to get out here and work, so not a whole lot you can do about it."

Daniel Brown owns the Durty Dogz food cart and still came down to serve his loyal customers.

"Business as usual," said Brown.

Volunteers at Raleigh City Farm spent time outdoors harvesting food for those in need.

"I think this is the essence of essential workers. Farmers don't stop working. Food doesn't stop growing," said Executive Director Lisa Grele Barrie

The nonprofit provides fresh produce for food banks, such as the Interfaith Food Shuttle, and to anyone else in need.

The City of Raleigh opened all of its outdoor pools Wednesday, but a spokesperson said lifeguards were rotated more frequently to limit their time outside.

Children coping with suboptimal air quality

Outdoor camps and athletic events were canceled or postponed Wednesday because of air quality concerns across the state.

"I put a message out to the families and the players and said we're in a Code Red alert and safety is most important," lacrosse coach Amanda Rundgren said. "The safety of the players is so much more important than winning a tournament, and the most important thing for me as a coach is for them to have fun and learn."

Instead of an outdoor practice, Rundgren opted for a team bonding opportunity -- taking her girls to a local ice cream shop to talk a little strategy and enjoy each other's company.

As for the coming days, some teams and outdoor events may continue to play it safe. Check with your particular event or organizers before you head out.


Air quality alerts are triggered by a number of factors, including the detection of fine-particle pollution - known as "PM 2.5" - which can irritate the lungs.

"We have defenses in our upper airway to trap larger particles and prevent them from getting down into the lungs. These are sort of the right size to get past those defenses," said Dr. David Hill, a pulmonologist in Waterbury, Connecticut, and a member of the American Lung Association's National Board of Directors. "When those particles get down into the respiratory space, they cause the body to have an inflammatory reaction to them."

Trent Ford, the state climatologist in Illinois, said the atmospheric conditions in the upper Midwest creating dry, warm weather made it possible for small particulates to travel hundreds of miles from the Canadian wildfires and linger for days.

"It's a good example of how complex the climate system is but also how connected it is," Ford said.


Exposure to elevated fine particle pollution levels can affect the lungs and heart.

The air quality alerts caution "sensitive groups," a big category that includes children, older adults, and people with lung diseases, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Kids, who often are encouraged to go out and play, "are more susceptible to smoke for a number of reasons," said Laura Kate Bender, the lung association's National Assistant Vice President, healthy air. "Their lungs are still developing, they breathe in more air per unit of body weight."

SEE ALSO | Canadian fires bring dangerous air quality to the US, impacting millions of Americans


It's a good time to put off that yard work and outdoor exercise. If you go out, consider wearing an N95 mask to reduce your exposure to pollutants.

Stay inside, keeping your doors, windows and fireplaces shut. It's recommended that you run the air conditioning on a recirculation setting.

"If you have filters on your home HVAC system, you should make sure they're up to date and high quality," Hill said. "Some people, particularly those with underlying lung disease, or heart disease, should consider investing in in air purifiers for their homes."

WATCH: Big Weather breaks down Code Red air quality alert