Ozone Season Starts Friday

RALEIGH

The ozone season begins Friday as state and local environmental agencies renew their daily air quality forecasts for ozone in metropolitan areas across North Carolina. 

Air quality across the state has improved significantly over the past decade due to declining emissions from industry and motor vehicles and more stringent standards. Over the past three years, ozone levels have been the lowest since the state began monitoring the air in the early 1970s. All of North Carolina currently meets the new, more stringent federal ozone standard that was adopted in October 2015.

“We are confident that North Carolina will continue its trend of improving air quality, but people should be aware of air forecasts,” said Sheila Holman of the state environmental department. “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.”

State and local air quality programs issue forecasts year-round for particle pollution and during the warmer months for ozone, which needs abundant sunlight and heat to form.  Citizens can obtain air quality forecasts by visiting www.ncair.org .  They 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 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 April 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.

High ozone levels generally occur on hot sunny days with little wind, when various pollutants react in the air. Elevated levels of fine particles can occur throughout the year, particularly during episodes of stagnant air and wildfires. Sensitive groups should limit their outdoor activities during periods of elevated air pollution.

North Carolina has taken a number of steps to reduce levels of ozone, fine particles and other air pollutants, including the state Clean Smokestacks Act of 2002, which required power plants to reduce their ozone, particle and haze-forming emissions by three-fourths.

More information about air quality issues can be found at the Division of Air Quality’s web site, www.ncair.org/

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