Focal Point: Clearing the Air

Posted August 20, 2004 3:43 p.m. EDT
Updated September 16, 2014 5:02 p.m. EDT

Original Air Date: Aug. 20, 2004

North Carolina’s three major metropolitan areas -- the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte -- rank in the top 25 in the US with the worst ground level ozone pollution. But how can our cities be ranked with cities like Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and even New York?

Is our air really as bad as in those big cities? What measures are used to determine those rankings and are they fair? Should we worry about the air we’re breathing in North Carolina? And if so, what should we do about it? This 30-minute documentary examines the ozone issue and helps answer those questions.

There are two kinds of ozone; upper-level ozone which helps protect us from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and ground-level ozone, which is formed when compounds from industrial smokestacks, vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors and other solvents are heated by direct sunlight. Ground-level ozone can irritate and inflame air passages and the lining of the lungs and reduce lung capacity. The people most at risk from breathing ground-level ozone are children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems. People who work or exercise outdoors can also be affected.

The state’s major metropolitan areas currently violate the Environmental Protection Agency’s standard for ground-level ozone. The standard is controversial because it was just made stricter. Before the change the Triangle and Triad were in compliance with the standard. The EPA says it changed the standard to be more protective of public health, but the changes is controversial because it could mean economic consequences for some communities trying to lure new business and industry.

“Clearing the Air” profiles a couple with three asthmatic children, an elderly person and an avid cyclist who’ve all had problems with ozone and are concerned about the area’s air quality. The program also includes interviews with air quality experts from the EPA, the state Division of Air Quality and the American Lung Association all of whom collect and report data on air pollution and advise citizens on what to do about it. It also includes interviews from some who question the data and the EPA standards.

Finally, the documentary looks at measures being taken to improve North Carolina’s air quality, including the transition to cleaner burning power plants and automobiles. While the documentary reveals that our state’s ozone problem is getting better it raises concern over whether than trend can continue in the face of increasing growth and development