Knox County Health Department says air quality affected by recycling plant fire

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Knox County Health Department says the local air quality can be affected due to the massive materials fire in North Knoxville. 

     Related | Fire breaks out at waste & recycling plant in North Knoxville

Health department officials saying the amount and length of smoke exposure as well as a person’s age and degree of susceptibility play a role in determining if someone will experience smoke-related health problems.

Knoxville Fire Department spokesman Capt. D.J. Corcoran said Wednesday afternoon the plastics burning at the facility were the concern for air quality effects. 

“We’re basically dealing with a huge trash fire,” Corcoran said. “The low ceiling (of the smoke) and pressure, a lot of the black, toxic smoke would get pushed down and could cause respiratory issues. With the high ceiling, the air quality is dissipated as the wind carries it off.”

Mandatory evacuations began for approximately 65 homes near the recycling facility a few hours after the fire broke out. 

Prior to the mandatory evacuation, residents nearby telling WATE 6 On Your Side reporters they were voluntarily evacuating because of the heat and what firefighters told them was “toxic smoke” in the air near their homes. 

     Related | Residents near Fort Loudon Waste & Reycling fire evacuated

The health department says those in the area who are having any physical symptoms associated with smoke exposure (trouble breathing, chest pain, etc.) that don’t resolve after going inside or after taking their prescribed medications should seek medical care immediately. 

“To protect your health, it’s important to remember that if you can see or smell smoke, move away from the area,” said Knox County Air Quality Director Lynne Liddington. “If you cannot move away from the smoke, shut your doors and windows and turn off your air conditioning units. If you are driving through the smoke, roll up your windows and turn your air conditioning to recirculate, so you are not drawing the smoke into the vehicle.” 

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Smoke can hurt your eyes, irritate your respiratory system, and worsen chronic heart and lung diseases, health officials said. The effects of smoke range from:

  • Eye and respiratory tract irritation to more serious disorders, including reduced lung function, bronchitis, exacerbation of asthma and heart failure.

People with heart or lung disease, adults over 65 years of age, children, and pregnant women have the greatest risk. People who have heart disease might experience:

  • Chest pain 
  • Rapid heartbeat 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue 

People who have respiratory allergies, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, might experience: inability to breathe normally, cough with or without mucus, chest discomfort, or wheezing, and shortness of breath. 

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