Ozone season starts Wednesday


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

Ozone levels did not exceed the federal standard in North Carolina at all in 2014 and only once in 2013, due to lower emissions from industries and motor vehicles as well as the cooler, cloudier and wetter weather.

State and federal governments have taken steps to reduce levels of ozone, fine particles and other air pollutants. The state Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002 required power plants to reduce their ozone, particle and haze-forming emissions by three-fourths. The EPA has adopted additional controls on industrial emissions and required cleaner engines and fuels for cars and trucks. Those emissions reductions have led to dramatic improvements in air quality in recent years.

The N.C. Division of Air Quality, or DAQ, 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. Residents can obtain air quality forecasts by visiting the DAQ’s website at www.ncair.org or calling 1-888-RU4NCAIR (1-888-784-6224). They also can download a free smart phone app by searching for “EPA AIRNow,” or sign up to receive forecasts by email or tweets through the DAQ 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. Meteorologists issue the air quality forecasts at 3 p.m. every day for the next day. On Code Orange and Red days, the forecasts also suggest things people can do to protect their health and reduce air pollution, such as driving less.

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