(Memphis) For the first time ever, a Code Purple alert has been issued by the Memphis/Shelby County Health Department.
Purple is the second highest alert level and means the air quality is very unhealthy for everyone.
Ozone and other pollutant levels are so high that people are encouraged to reduce trips and stay indoors.
On Monday, a code orange alert was issued. At the orange level, vulnerable people like those with asthma, COPD or the elderly, should stay inside.
The coded colors go from orange, to red, to purple, to maroon. At maroon, the air quality is hazardous.
Mike Goldstein, the Shelby County Health Department’s air pollution meteorologist, sets the alerts based on monitors set around the county.
Goldstein said that the bad air quality comes from mostly manmade pollution, mixed with sunlight.
There was hardly any wind on Wednesday. Emissions from vehicles, industry and lawn mowers, and sometimes rotting vegetation, mix with the harsh sun and no winds, thereby trapping chemicals close to the earth.
Those chemicals can burn your lungs.
Forecasts show a possible Code Orange alert on Thursday. That can change based on readings later in the day.
The alert didn’t stop many people from enjoying Tom Lee Park Thursday evening.
A youth church group from Fayetteville, AR came to Memphis to help fix roofs for people in Binghampton.
The children played football by the river, after a day of service.
“We’ve been de-shingling, and putting boards on all morning, then we went to the zoo this afternoon,” said Lauren DeLano.
They’ve been disconnected from the phone, TV and Internet during their trip, so they had no idea there was a historic Code Purple.
“That’s pretty crazy. Especially now I find out that we maybe shouldn’t be outside all day today. And not just because of dehydration but because of chemicals and things like that are detrimental to our health.”
In fact, the group includes one child with asthma.
“He’s actually been using his inhaler today. And I haven’t seen him use it all week. So that might be a good indication,” DeLano said.
Zoe Taylor, a father of two young girls, was also just learning of the alert.
He had come out with his family to enjoy the cooler weather at sunset.
“See the sun’s going down, so enjoy the beautiful weather, beautiful summer day with the family,” he said.
But the beautiful day with no wind turned out to be a problem.
“That’s dangerous. That’s all I can say. That’s real dangerous. I mean, you just got to listen and watch the news. And tune in.”