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Environment appears to be safe after Weaver Fire – Old Gold & Black

Environment appears to be safe after Weaver Fire – Old Gold & Black

Wake Forest University has announced that classes will resume as usual on Monday, February 7, as part of its investigation into the cause and consequences of the Weaver fertilizer blaze.

Officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and Forsyth County Office of Environmental Assistance and Protection have been continuously monitoring the air quality in Winston-Salem and the surrounding areas, including Wake Forest University’s campus. They are now forecasting good air quality for next week.

The EPAs monitoring started late Tuesday afternoon when an eight-member team of the EPA Emergency Response Program arrived at Forsyth County to deploy mobile monitoring sites. Alumni Hall was one of the sites.

Dr. Stan Meiburg, director The location of the testing site was chosen by Wake Forest graduate students in sustainability.

The Wake Forest University Police Station was the station most relevant to campus. It is located in Alumni Hall. Meiburg wrote to Old Gold & Black. It appears to have been located within the one-mile perimeter that was established to protect against an explosive explosion. This is the closest spot on campus to the fire site. From an air quality standpoint average concentrations [of particulate matter]It is likely that the site would be just as high as any other campus location.

The monitoring stations recorded averages of air quality for six- and twelve-hour periods during five time periods. The EPA only measured particulate matter (PM2.5) as a pollutant.

Particulate matter refers to a mixture solid particles and liquid droplets that can be found in the air. Some of these particles can only be detected with an electron microscope because they are so small.

Barnette provided a report that showed that levels of particulate matter in Tuesday’s six-hour average were higher than the EPAs recommended threshold. They were therefore designated as hazardous. The EPA Emergency Response Team tracked air quality for 12 consecutive hours starting at 6 a.m. Wednesday. This time, levels of PM2.5 exceeded the EPAs suggested action threshold and were classified as Hazardous. After 12 hours, the EPA Emergency Response Team registered an average Wednesday night that was unhealthy.

According to the EPA the best action for PM2.5 Hazardous Levels is to close schools and cancel outdoor events. The EPA also recommends closing down workplaces and evacuating affected communities.

The EPA recommends that schools be closed and outdoor events cancelled if PM2.5 levels are too high. It also recommends sheltering in places and evacuation for those affected areas.

Steve Fisenne at Wake Forest, director of Environmental Health and Safety, explained that these elevated levels of particulate material were due to weather events.

This was when an atmospheric inverse occurred. It occurs when warmer air in the atmosphere traps colder air below. Fisenne explained that this inversion is a night-time phenomenon and lingers until dawn, when the air at the ground level warms up. The Weaver Fertilizer plant’s smoke plume could not rise into the atmosphere, which is what causes the increase in particulate matter.

Fisenne continued to emphasize the timing of this event.

Fisenne explained that the timing of this inversion meant that the plume was passing over the north end of campus at night. There are very few people outside at this time. Indoor air quality would not suffer as the buildings’ air filters would capture all particulate matter.

Meiburg clarified the EPA standards for high levels of particulate material.

Meiburg stated that the ambient standards were not designed to account for short-term exposures caused by events such as this one. These events can produce very high concentrations in a short time period of time. These concentrations can cause irritation and symptoms like shortness of breath and coughing. Children and those with compromised lung function are at greater risk.

Wind shifts and other weather events had a significant effect on the direction of smoke in Winston-Salem. Minor Barnette (director of FCEAP) explained the reasons for heavy smoke levels on Wake Forests campus during initial days of fire.

Barnette stated that the fire started Monday evening. On Tuesday, the wind was blowing from the northeast, pushing the plume towards southwest for about 10 to 12 hours. During that time, the plume was moving towards Wake Forest.

Barnette expressed optimism about Wake Forest’s student population. On average, they are made up of healthy young people.

Barnette stated that healthy college students without underlying health conditions are among the most vulnerable to adverse acute health effects from short-term exposures.

Barnette noted, however that there are risks for people with underlying conditions.

A person’s risk is determined by the levels of air pollution that they’re exposed to and the duration of that exposure, how long they breathe at elevated levels, their age and their underlying health conditions, Barnette said. If someone has severe asthma, or has chronic obstructive or emphysema or chronic asthma, then particles could trigger an attack. People with existing cardiac disease may be at greater risk from heart attacks.

Fisenne spoke out about the decision-making process at the university during this period and highlighted the importance of County officials and the EPA.

It was crucial that we rely on the expertise and experience of the EPA as well as County officials to protect campus residents. Fisenne wrote that the smoke was identified by the EPA as an irritant and not as toxic chemical exposure. The incident data showed that there were no chemical byproducts from an ammonium Nitrate fire. This gave us confidence that any particulate matter found was from combusted construction materials.

Fisenne also highlighted the university’s partnership in health with officials when it came to how best to advise students, faculty, staff.

Fisenne wrote that the hazard would be greatest for those suffering from asthma or other conditions. Concentrations that are higher than normal would have a greater chance of affecting people without respiratory issues.

The EPA recorded an upward trend of air quality over the course of the week, as the smoke from the fire subsided. According to Wake Forest University’s official communication, the EPA reported that current air quality readings at campus do not pose a threat to individual health and that it is safe to inhale. Their monitoring has not detected the presence of ammonia or nitrogen dioxide compounds at any time, neither at the beginning of the fire nor as it slowed down.

Other environmental concerns have also been raised about the condition of Winston-Salem’s air and the surrounding areas. Public health officials have begun to monitor the quality of the water in Winston-Salem’s surrounding creeks.

Thursday’s water advisory was issued by the Forsyth County Department of Public Health for Muddy Creek. This was due to runoff from the Weaver Plant Fire, which was caused by rain throughout the day.

Saturday’s statement was issued by city officials warning residents to avoid Muddy, Mill, and Monarcas Creeks downstream of the Winston Weaver Co. fertilizer plants and to keep pets out of the creeks because of elevated levels of chemicals found in the water due to the fire at the plant.

FOX 8 News reports that dead fish were discovered along the creek, starting at the drain and ending at the place where Monarcas Creek joins Mill Creek on Saturday. FOX 8 News also reported that the affected areas do not have any public water wells.

Fisenne says Silas Creek is being monitored. It runs south from the Monarcas Muddy and Mill Creek lines. Because of the distance between the university and the creeks impacted, it is more likely that Silas Creek will not be affected by the topography.

Fisenne explained that as a precaution we started collecting samples from the campus’ surface waters. This gives us a baseline in case of any potential impacts.Visit their website to view the entire university communication about the Weaver Fertilizer fire Website. FCEAP professionals continue to update their Triad Air Quality websiteWith a daily air quality forecast.

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