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State Leaders Meet To Discuss Air Quality Issues

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RALEIGH, N.C. — When it comes to air quality, the Triangle has some of the dirtiest air in the country, any day of the year.

The Triangle ranks 22nd for the dirtiest air, according to the

American Lung Association's 2003 State of the Air report

. Los Angeles is No. 1.

The Charlotte region is 10th, and the Triad comes in at No. 17.

On a day like Thursday, with a code red for the ozone level, it becomes apparent why people should care about dirty air and the ozone.

The average adult breathes in 3,000 gallons of air a day, and children even more. According to the

Environmental Protection Agency,

about 1,000 people die each year from the problems created by bad air.

The state is making an effort to keep the air cleaner.

Ozone alerts have been a part of Triangle summers for five years, along with tips for taking action: car pool, ride the bus. Sell the SUV and get an electric car, or hybrid.

Nevertheless, the EPA says the Triangle and other big metro areas of the state are in non-attainment -- falling short of new federal air quality standards.

According to officials, the state is on a three-year clock to put together a plan. If there is no plan, the state could lose federal transportation funding.

That is why business and government leaders gathered Thursday at the EPA in the RTP.

"Our quality of life will be impacted," said Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory. "Our jobs will start leaving the area. So we have to deal with it now."

McCrory told the group that air quality won't improve without regional cooperation. That means cities and counties working together to plan for growth with the environment in mind.

The state already has passed a

Clean Smokestacks Act

-- to require reduced emissions at coal-fired plants during the next decade.

Some Triangle leaders say they'd hate to resort to mandatory restrictions on citizens' day-to-day lives.

"I'm hopeful that we'll be able to accomplish this through voluntary efforts and through programs that the state of North Carolina already has implemented," Wake County Commissioner Jay Bryan said.

Governments resorted to mandatory measures when water was in short supply last summer. The leaders who met Thursday see the lack of breathable air as just as serious a problem.

Once the state comes up with a plan in three years to improve air quality, they would be required to come within federal standards by the year 2009

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