"The only thing you can do on a day like this," retired school teacher B. F. French complained, "is sweat like hell."

Perspiration dripping around his narrow black glasses as he sold eggs, corn meal and collard greens at the Farmers Market in Washington yesterday, French typified the fate of those who spent time outdoors here.

After several days of high heat, humidity and polluted air, the area received a stronger dose of discomfort yesterday.

At 3:30 p.m., the temperature rose to 98, this year's hottest, while the humidity hovered in the sticky 50.55 percent range. The 3 p.m. air quality index reading of 100 prompted an extension of the current pollution alert for the fourth consecutive day.

Meanwhile, the Metro transit strike continued.

A forecaster for the National Weather Service said the pollution alert will continue until at least noon today. The heat, combined with the humidity and dirty air, sent thousands of area residents scurrying for air-conditioning and swimming pools and beaches. The Maryland State Police reported a 10-mile traffic backup of beach-bound cars at the Chesapeake Bay Bridge.

French, who said he was once the "first and lonely" black instructor at Arlington's Washington-Lee High School, where he taught welding and machine shop classes, was only one of many people who stayed in the city to work yesterday despite the heat-humidity-pollution triple punch.

John Hudson, 65, a retired government worker whose hobby is gardening was also at the Farmers Market at 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NE., sitting in what he called "mighty hot shade," trying to sell pink-tinged begonias. If he were not working at the market, Hudson speculated with a sign. "Why, I'd be fishing or working in my garden . . . Or, I might be sleeping. When it's this hot, there's not much else you can do."

Ray Robinson, a construction worker, was laying asphalt sheeting at Vermont Avenue and K Street NW early yesterday afternoon. "It's rough," Robinson said of doing heavy work in the heat. "When I get home, I'm going to take a shower and go to bed."

On the basketball court as Hamilton Junior High School in Northeast, Jerome Chandler and Clifton Martin quit after 1 1/2 hours. It was all they could take, they said. "I'm going home to relax, at least until the sun goes down," said Chandler.

The heat, humidity and dirty air did not appear to cause an unusually large number of heat-related illnesses among area residents, hospital officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia reported. But one nursing supervisor in a Montgomery General Hospital added: "Give it another day or two."

She may be right. High temperatures and humidity are expected to linger today but there is a potential for a thundershower or two, the National Weather Service said.