Health, safety concerns over smoke following five-alarm fire

ST. LOUIS – The smoke from the fire was thick and uncompromising. And it's causing continued health concerns even though the smoke has cleared away for the most part.

If you breathed the smoke Thursday morning and don't feel quite right, you're likely suffering from at least some degree of smoke inhalation.

“It’s absolutely from smoke. Any time you have a fire, you’re going to get materials like carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen cyanide. When that gets into your bloodstream, it’s going to impair your body’s ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide effectively,” said Dr. Fred Coste, a pulmonologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “You’ll feel short of breath. You’ll have headaches. You may feel a little bit nauseous.”

You also may cough up mucous. If you have a respiratory condition like asthma or COPD, the shortness of breath may be extreme and require immediate medical attention. Toxins from things like burning plastic, styrofoam, or other chemicals, can make the symptoms more serious and longer-lasting.

Weather radar indicated the smoke plume hovered from the fire scene for nearly 20 miles across St. Clair County, Illinois. Dr. Coste said the risk remains even after the smoke clears and is greatest for those living closest to scene, here the smoke was so thick that it blocked out the sun.

“If you look at the sun, that’s what it looks like … like a total eclipse,” said Le’Niece Campbell, a nearby resident.

Dr. Coste said the best thing anyone living close to the scene can do is to get away from it as much as possible for the next few days.