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Air quality alert in Louisville for sensitive groups issued for Thursday and Friday

Louisville Air Watch issued an air quality warning for sensitive groups — children, older adults, people with heart disease and breathing conditions — in Louisville and Southern Indiana as the area sees elevated levels of fine particles in the air.

Smoke from Canadian wildfires has extended from New York City down to the Carolinas, eclipsing many city skylines with a reddish haze. The edges of the smoke are stretching further west, according to the federal AirNow map.

While the poorest air quality is concentrated along the east coast, the map shows air quality alerts that may be related through Louisville, all the way to Chicago.

Several days in the last week have resulted in air quality alerts. Louisville and Southern Indiana’s air quality has been rated “unhealthy for some” Thursday and Friday.

According to Louisville Air Watch, the index rating for today is in the orange range, meaning it may be dangerous for sensitive groups. The primary pollutant is fine particles, to which forest fires can contribute.

Rachel Keith is a professor of medicine at the University of Louisville and the director of human studies at the Christina Lee Brown Envirome Institute. She said air quality concerns are a regular issue for the city, and the wildfire smoke has so far only minimally impacted local residents.

People in sensitive groups like seniors, children, and those with heart or breathing conditions should be careful going outside, Keith said. She recommended keeping an eye out for symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath or chest pain.

Consistent air pollution can have a long term impact even on otherwise healthy people, so everyone should limit their exposure, Keith said.

“What people don't think about because you don't feel it happening is that air pollution can impact heart disease. It can acutely help trigger things like heart attacks,” Keith said. “Long-term exposure … can also increase your risk of diabetes and different cancers.”

She advised that concerned people wear N95 masks outside and not exercise outdoors. Strenuous activity that leads to heavy breathing means inhaling more of the particles in the air. Keith also recommended using high efficiency particulate air, or HEPA, filters in the home.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.