Air Quality Where You Are

Friday, May 1, 2020 - 2:11pm

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, three hundred and sixty-five 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. 

Next week, May 4th through May 8th, 2020 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 “Better Air, Better Health,” 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 neighborhood. 

We also want to share this video celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Carolinas Air Pollution Control Association (CAPCA).  We appreciate all the great work that has been done to improve our air, and therefore our health, throughout the years. 

What is air pollution here in NC and where does it come from? 

Air pollution comes from various places, or sources: stationary sources such as factories, 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 tissues. 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 like 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% reduction). Utilities reduced actual sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions from 489,000 tons in 1998 to 250,000 tons by 2009 (49% reduction) and 130,000 tons by 2013 (73% 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. 

What can YOU do?  

Although the air quality in our state has been improving, we all still need to be vigilant in reducing air pollution where we live, work and play to maintain those improvements and keep our air clean.  So what can you do to be aware, protect your health, and take action to reduce air pollution? -- Know the code! The air quality forecast (or code) provides an index for reporting the daily air quality within a specific county or region.  Basically, it tells you how good or bad the air quality is in your area.  By keeping track of the air quality forecast on the DAQ forecast webpageEPA websiteEnviroFlash, or through the AirNow App, you can protect not only your own health, but also of those around you. Limiting your or your family and friends’ outdoor physical activities on code orange or worse days can be helpful, especially if someone is a member of a more sensitive group like kids, the elderly, or people with respiratory problems.  

You can also do your share to care for the air. Driving less, keeping your car tuned, and using less electricity reduces emissions from cars and power plants, so that everyone can breathe easier.   

Thank you for helping us improve North Carolina’s air. While we appreciate all the work done in the past to get us to where we are today, the DAQ looks forward to an even cleaner future.  As our states population increases, we must be more conscientious of our shared natural resources and ask ourselves what we can do to help keep our air clean and healthy for everyone.   


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