The air quality of more than half of South Carolina’s counties was declared unhealthy Wednesday by the state’s health agency.
Just six days after the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control warned of possible side effects related to the wildfires burning throughout several Southeastern states, the agency issued a “Code Red” air quality alert for 25 counties, including Richland and Lexington.
Melissa Overman, assistant state epidemiologist, warned against children spending too much time outdoors, since they take in more air than adults. Kids who are suffering from the air’s pollutants might complain of tightness in their chests or irritated eyes and throats.
Overman said healthy athletes should consider limiting their time outside as well. She also suggested not taking pets for a jog. Plus, those with respiratory illnesses, such as asthma and bronchitis, who live in the areas that will remain under code red on Thursday should remain indoors as much as possible, she said.
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The South Carolina High School League announced Wednesday it would wait until Thursday to decide what to do with games scheduled for Friday. Game officials who can’t officiate because of air quality concerns will be replaced. “We will have an update (Thursday) afternoon with the most up-to-date weather conditions and wind predictions,” a statement from the group said.
University of South Carolina football players practiced indoors Wednesday, said athletics spokesman Steve Fink.
Code red meant the area’s air quality was third to last, on a scale of six colors, with maroon marking hazardous air. DHEC has bumped 19 counties back to “code orange,” excluding six Upstate counties that are closest to the wildfires. A total of 33 are expected to remain under code orange status Thursday.
“The biggest difference between yesterday and today is the dose,” said Overman, adding that an outdoor activity should be adjusted to the quality of the air.
Winds are expected to shift Thursday to be more out of the north or northeast, which would minimize the amount of smoke being drawn into the Central Midlands, said Al Moore, meteorologist at the Columbia office of the National Weather Service. But the air flow will be weak and will not help disperse the smoke or move it away that much, Moore said. And the winds will shift again Friday, potentially increasing the amount of smoke in the Central Midlands again.
“Friday kind of remains a question mark as to whether it may get worse again,” Moore said. “We’ll have more of a south or southwesterly weak breeze.”
For those who have to spend long periods of time outdoors or who have illnesses that the smoke is aggravating, Overman said just a regular mask from a hardware store won’t make the cut. “Those are not built to block this type of particulate,” Overman said.
She suggested visiting places that carry “N95” masks or respirators, which are designed to achieve a “very close facial fit” and “very efficient filtration of airborne particles,” according to the Food and Drug Administration. Overman stressed, however, that the masks have to be fitted to a person’s face to ensure they’re truly effective. Nonetheless, the masks could help, she said.
Staff writers Lou Bezjak and Dwayne McLemore contributed to this story.