State encourages people to be aware of air quality forecasts as ozone season starts

Raleigh

The 2017 ozone season starts today, as state and local environmental agencies renew their daily air quality forecasts for ozone in metropolitan areas across North Carolina. 

Ozone, which has been North Carolina’s most widespread air quality concern, continues to decline, thanks in large part to reductions in emissions from its primary air pollution sources – power plants, industry and motor vehicles.

“We are confident that North Carolina will continue its trend of improving air quality, but people should be aware of air quality forecasts,” said Michael Abraczinskas, acting director of the state Division of Air Quality. “We provide forecasts to inform people about air quality and its health effects. People can use them to help protect their health and take actions to reduce emissions.”

Ozone forms in the air when nitrogen oxides, or NOx, react with hydrocarbons on warm, sunny days with little wind. Ozone can be unhealthy to breathe, particularly for children, people with respiratory problems or heart disease, and even healthy adults who work or exercise outdoors. Exposure to high ozone levels may cause previously healthy individuals to develop asthma over time. Ozone also causes millions of dollars in tree and crop damage each year in the U.S.  

The monitoring and forecast season for ozone is starting one month earlier than for previous years to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency’s final rule for the 2015 ozone standard. During the past three years, ozone levels have been the lowest since the state began monitoring the air in the early 1970s.

The entire state currently meets the new, more stringent federal ozone standard that was adopted in October 2015.

The daily air quality forecasts focus on the pollutant likely to reach the highest level on a given day, which could be ozone or particle pollution. The color-coded forecasts show whether air quality is likely to be good (green), moderate (yellow), unhealthy for sensitive groups (orange), unhealthy (red) or very unhealthy (purple).

State and local air programs issue forecasts for ozone from March through October in the Asheville, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Hickory, Triad, Triangle and Rocky Mount metropolitan areas. They issue forecasts for particle pollution year-round for the same metro areas. The forecasts come out at 3 p.m. every day for the next day. On Code Orange and Red days, the forecasts also suggest steps people can take to protect their health and reduce air pollution, such as driving less.

People can obtain air quality forecasts, which link from the home page of the state Division of Air Quality’s website, www.ncair.org. People also can download a free smart phone app by searching for “EPA AIRNow,” or sign up to receive forecasts by email or Twitter through the air quality website.

The ozone season ends Oct. 30. 

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