State Fair to monitor smoke from tractor pull event

bcain@newsobserver.comOctober 4, 2012 

RALEIGH

A Chapel Hill woman, whose daughter became ill after breathing tractor fumes at last year’s N.C. State Fair, wants this year’s fairgoers to be aware of potential air quality dangers and take proper precautions.

Joan Royer’s 15-year-old daughter, Diana, attended the fair last year with some friends and the mother of one of them, Charmaine Berrian, who is a nurse for Wake County Schools. As the group stood at a bumper car ride along the Midway, they say black smoke blew over from the tractor pull area at the Grandstand, which is about 120 feet away.

The next morning, Diana Royer, an athlete with no history of lung problems, told her mother she was having trouble breathing.

Physicians at an Urgent Care clinic sent Diana to the emergency room, where it was determined that the teenager had inhaled diesel smoke. One of the other girls, who pulled her shirt over her face when she noticed the smoke, reported irritation in her nose and throat, but no lung issues. Berrian, who has a history of asthma, also experienced breathing problems.

Royer, a nurse at Duke Health Technology Solutions, contacted officials at the N.C. Department of Agriculture, which runs the fair, and complained about tractor smoke being close to areas where people might stand while waiting in lines for rides.

Agriculture officials investigated the incident, which they say is the first of its kind reported to the department. They are taking steps this year to lessen the likelihood of a recurrence at the tractor pull, an event that involves modified tractors competing to pull a heavy sled.

“We’re looking at things we can do,” said Brian Long, agriculture department spokesman. “We have a limited amount of space, but we do our best to arrange everything in such a way that makes (rides) accessible to the visitors and the operators as well.”

Changes to event

Long said the tractor pull operator will run the class of tractors that generate the most smoke earlier in the day. That’s when officials think air conditions will be less conducive for lingering smoke. Long said the fair also will monitor air and smoke conditions on the days of the tractor pull – Friday, Oct. 12, through Sunday, Oct. 14 – and will have EMS and first aid staff in that vicinity to keep an eye on things.

Royer is pleased with the fair’s actions and hopes no one else gets sick from tractor fumes.

“I’m glad they’re doing something,” she said.

She said her daughter plans to return to the fair this year with her friends, but they will skip the tractor pull days.

Fair officials also dealt with an E. coli outbreak that sickened 25 people at last year’s fair. Agriculture officials announced in August that fairgoers will no longer be allowed to get within touching distance of animals in the Jim Graham Building, and that visitors will be barred entirely from the Kelley Building for all but the opening weekend of the fair.

Food vendors also will be moved away from the alley between the Graham building and the Exposition Center.

The State Fair runs from Thursday, Oct. 11, through Sunday, Oct. 21.

Cain: 919-829-4579

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