Debbie Credle, RN, is a nurse in the WakeMed Children’s Asthma Program and a member of the Wake County Asthma Coalition.
If you drove by WakeMed Raleigh Campus on New Bern Ave. today, you might have noticed an orange flag waving from the hillside at 2610 New Bern Ave just down from the hospital’s main entrance. A flag has been flying here since July 2009 to alert residents about air pollution risks for that day based on information from the NC Division of Air Quality, and today was the first high ozone day of 2010.
The air quality flags are part of a nationally recognized program and are flying in several states across the nation. There are currently two air quality flag sites in Wake County – the other one is located at Poe Elementary School – but I hope you will soon see flags flying at local schools, libraries, fire stations and other locations in every zip code of the county.
Air quality is an important issue in Wake County because the number of children with asthma continues to grow. It is estimated that air pollution results in 50 infant deaths and 1,500 emergency room visits for children with asthma each year in North Carolina. When it comes to a high prevalence of asthma, Raleigh ranks among the Top 50 cities nationwide, ranking third among capital cities, and North Carolina ranks #11 among states.
The different flag colors – green, yellow, orange and red – correspond to the Air Quality Color Code Guide and represent varying levels of air quality. A green flag means the air quality is good, while a red flag means the air quality is unhealthy for everyone and outdoor activities should be limited. When a yellow or orange flag is flying, air quality is less than ideal and outdoor exposure should be limited for those people most impacted by air quality, including children, elderly, and people who are extremely sick or suffer from heart and respiratory diseases such as asthma.