Breathing on the ridge-top hiking trails of the mountains surrounding Asheville could be hazardous for your health today: The state’s Air Quality Index has updated its ridge-top ozone forecast to Code Orange, considered unhealthy for “sensitive” individuals (children, the elderly, people with asthma or other respiratory conditions, and — Attention, hikers! — anyone who works or exercises vigorously outdoors).
A strong respiratory irritant, ozone is caused by the reaction of nitrogen oxides (byproducts of combustion from coal-fired power plants, motor vehicles, lawn-care equipment etc.) with volatile organic compounds (hydrocarbons from cars, dry cleaners, factories etc.) in the presence of sunlight and heat. Symptoms of exposure, according to the N.C. Division of Air Quality, can include coughing, throat irritation, chest pain and asthma attacks.
The weekend weather outlook indicates that the low-pressure system moving northward along the Atlantic coast could result in clouds and rain, reducing the ozone levels for the next several days. Ozone forecasts may be heard by dialing 1-888-RU4NCAIR. Daily forecasts and additional information about local air quality are available through the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency.
— Nelda Holder, associate editor