North Carolina Meeting Stricter, New Air Quality Standard

RALEIGH

As the 2016 ozone season comes to an end, North Carolina is fully complying with the new, more stringent ozone standard that the federal Environmental Protection Agency adopted last year, state environmental officials said in recent recommendations to the federal agency.

“North Carolina is committed to protecting the health of our citizens, our environment, and our economy,” said Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart in a letter to EPA. “Maintaining air quality is critical to the health of our citizens, our future growth, prosperity and quality of life. “

The EPA reset the 8-hour ozone standard to 70 parts per billion (ppb) in October 2015, compared to the previous standard of 75 ppb in effect since 2008. The federal agency will determine compliance or attainment with the new standard in October 2017, based on a 3-year average of the fourth-highest ozone values at each monitor for the 2014-2016 period.

No air quality monitors in North Carolina violated the new standard during the 2013-2015 ozone seasons, according to final analyses by the state Division of Air Quality, or DAQ, and local air programs in Buncombe, Forsyth and Mecklenburg counties. In addition, preliminary data shows that no air monitors have violated the ozone standard in 2016 as well.

“Air quality continues to improve across North Carolina,” DAQ Director Sheila Holman said.  “We are recommending that EPA designate all of North Carolina as attainment for the new ozone standard.”

In the early 2000s, about one-third of the state’s counties were classified as non-attainment for ozone, and Code Red and Orange ozone alerts were a frequent occurrence during summer months. However, ozone levels during the past few years have been the lowest since the state began monitoring the air in the early 1970s.

North Carolina’s air quality has improved due to declining emissions from motor vehicles, power plants and other industrial sources.  The Clean Smokestacks Act that North Carolina adopted in 2002 required the state’s coal-fired power plants to reduce their emissions by about three-fourths. EPA requirements have led to lower emissions from other industrial sources, cars and trucks, as well as cleaner gasoline and diesel fuel.

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