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What residents need to know about the smoke following the Metro East fire

Thick smoke covered the area around the fire in Madison, Illinois, Wednesday.
Credit: KSDK

ST. LOUIS — A shelter-in-place order was lifted in the areas around the large fire that consumed a recycling factory in Madison, Illinois, Wednesday.

The fire was contained, but hot spots were still flaring up, continuing to create smoke for the area Thursday afternoon.

The Madison County Emergency Management Agency warned that smoke could still affect sensitive people, but levels were safe enough to end the shelter-in-place order. The air quality would be monitored continuously.

The concern was particulate matter, or PM, in the smoke. High levels of particulate matter could cause health problems when inhaled.

People with asthma, lung and respiratory conditions, children and older adults could be most susceptible to having issues with particulate matter. Anyone having trouble breathing should get immediate medical attention.

Some people may have had eye, nose or throat irritation from the smoke.

"Long-term effects are not expected," according to the news release from the Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

Read more from the Madison County Emergency Management Agency:

Is my health at risk from inhaling smoke from this fire?

Thick smoke from the fire may contain fine particulate matter (PM). Exposure to high levels of PM may cause health problems for sensitive individuals, particularly people who have pre-existing cardiovascular or lung problems, such as asthma, but also young children and the elderly. Therefore, sensitive individuals should take precautions to avoid areas where there is visible smoke.

Anyone who may have been exposed to the smoke and is experiencing health problems should contact their doctor.

Residents who were exposed to smoke and other hazardous chemicals from the fire could have experienced short-term health effects, including eye, nose, or throat irritation and coughing. Residents with mild or moderate eye, nose, or throat irritation will likely be fine but should follow up with their doctor if symptoms persist or become worse. Long-term effects are not expected.

What chemicals are in the smake?

USEPA started air monitoring on August 10, and are actively monitoring and sampling the air for particulate matter. In addition to particulate matter, agencies are monitoring other chemical compounds. Any additional information from air monitoring activity will be used to inform updated
recommendations to the public.

What actions should I take when outdoors where there is smoke?

Stay indoors and avoid outdoor activities in smoky areas when possible.
Avoid heavy exertion outdoors. Postpone major outdoor projects for now.
Wear gloves and wash your hands with soap and water after cleaning up outdoors.

Take off your shoes when you go inside and leave outdoor shoes in the garage so that you don't track particles indoors. Heavily soiled clothes should be washed separately.

How can I clean indoor and outdoor surfaces?

Clean interior floors and upholstery with a HEPA filter vacuum cleaner.
Hard, smooth surfaces like tile floors and countertops can be wiped down with soapy water and rinsed.

Use soap and water to clean toys, swing sets, patio furniture, grills, pet toys, cars, etc.

To clean swimming pools, recirculate through the filters and perform routine pool maintenance.

How do I address potential impacts to my central air conditioner or furnace?

Clean or replace your furnace filter to ensure that it is working efficiently and effectively. When removing or cleaning air filters, wear a mask and gloves. Turn on the system's "fan" or "recirculate" option to circulate the air in your home through the filter. If you have a window air conditioner, close the outdoor air damper.

A furnace filter with a MERV rating of 11 or 13 will do a better job capturing fine particulate matter than less expensive filters.

A portable air cleaner with a HEPA filter can also reduce exposure to particulate matter that migrates indoors.

Are garden vegetables safe to eat?

Homegrown fruits and vegetables can be safely consumed after thoroughly washing and rinsing. Discard the outer leaves of greens before washing. Peel all root vegetables which were in direct contact with soil.

Who can I call if I have additional questions?

If you have, any additional health-related concerns or you may reach out to the Illinois Department of Public Health by calling 217-782-5830 or emailing DPH.Tox@illinois.gov.

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