Air Quality Awareness Week 2018

Wednesday, May 2, 2018 - 9:19am

Air Quality - Where You Are                                                                                                                                                          

Good air quality is often one of those things we take for granted.  It's not something that we can see, smell, or taste.  North Carolina’s air has been improving every year due to the efforts from a variety of groups and individuals.  Every day, 365 days a year, the North Carolina Division of Air Quality (DAQ) works with the state’s citizens to protect and improve outdoor, or ambient, air quality for the health, benefit and economic well-being of all. To carry out this mission, the DAQ has programs to operate a statewide air quality monitoring network to measure the level of pollutants in the outdoor air, develop and implement plans to meet future air quality initiatives, assure compliance with air quality rules, and educate, inform and assist the public with regard to air quality issues.

This week, April 30 through May 4, 2018, is Air Quality Awareness week across the country. DAQ would like to extend a thank you to everyone who has aided in improving our air quality, however big or small those steps may be. As we celebrate Air Quality Awareness week with the theme of “Air Quality where you are,” we would also like to take a moment to share some our state-wide successes and tips on how you can help improve air quality right where you are, in your very own neighborhood.

But first, what is air pollution?

Air pollution comes from various places, or sources: stationary sources such as factories and power plants, and smaller sources such as dry cleaners and degreasing operations; mobile sources such as cars, buses, planes, trucks, and trains; and naturally occurring sources such as windblown dust and others.

Today, our main concerns are related to two air pollutants in particular; ground level ozone and particulate matter. These pollutants can affect everyone. They irritate the lungs and respiratory system, and can even affect the heart. Air pollution can make asthma worse, trigger asthma attacks, or cause the onset of asthma. Even healthy people can have trouble taking deep breaths on “bad air” days, and can experience damage to lung tissue. Repeated damage, especially during childhood, can reduce lung function permanently.

What has been done about air pollution?

Many actions have been taken to reduce air pollution in our state. One of the major successes in North Carolina’s battle to improve air quality was the NC Clean Smokestacks Act (CSA) of 2002. This act was a result of many different stakeholders coming together for a common good. The Clean Smokestacks Act required substantial actual emission reductions from coal-fired plants. This effort led to a significant reduction in ozone levels, nitrogen oxides (NOx), and sulfur dioxide (SO2). Combined with other federal and state regulations such as stricter standards for new cars and trucks, and cleaner gasoline and diesel fuels, high ozone-level days have become a much rarer occurrence in NC. The CSA worked!  Under the act, North Carolina's utilities reduced actual emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from 245,000 tons in 1998 to 56,000 tons by 2009 (77 percent reduction). Utilities reduced actual sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from 489,000 tons in 1998 to 250,000 tons by 2009 (49 percent reduction) and 130,000 tons by 2013 (73 percent reduction). The CSA also had many co-benefits including significant reductions in particulate matter, mercury and CO2 as inefficient coal fired units were retired and replaced with cleaner natural gas units. As a former Secretary of the NC Department of Environmental Quality Bill Ross noted:

“The air got cleaner, people’s health got better,

and the sky got bluer.”

Teachers and students, or anyone, in North Carolina can learn more about the clean smokestacks act through our It’s Our Air (www.itsourair.org) curriculum, or click the video link here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0jBYUSq1CiU&t=449s.