Local News

Triangle's Dirty Air Gets EPA's Attention

Posted April 12, 2004 1:12 a.m. EDT

— The

Environmental Protection Agency

will tag the Triangle with a "dirty air" label later this week.

If the region does not clean up, it could cost millions in economic development, not to mention the health risks.

Beltline traffic in Raleigh is a major part of the problem. According to the EPA, half the ozone pollution comes from cars and trucks.

"There is no level of ozone not detrimental to our health," said Sig Hutchinson, of the

Wake County Air Quality Task Force,

which was formed 15 months ago to combat this problem. "So, this is a serious public health issue we all need to be keenly aware of."

The Greater Triangle Regional Council Air Quality Task Force

will release a report, "Air Quality in the Triangle," Monday at 2:45 p.m. at the RDU Center. The event, open to the public, will address the announcement to be made Thursday by the EPA that an eight-county Triangle region is designated non-attainment for ozone pollution (all of Wake, Durham, Orange, all or partial areas of Chatham, Johnston, Person, Granville and Franklin).

Secretary William Ross is scheduled to speak. The task force also will present an inventory of air-quality initiatives in the Triangle and recommend strategies on ways the region can begin to improve air quality immediately, as well as on a long-term basis.

Research shows ozone may cause asthma. Hutchinson said the number of Wake County children with the disease is rising.

So is the county's traffic congestion.

Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker addressed the issue last week, giving the city a "to-do" list.

"I guess you can predict anytime I have a list, trees are on it," Meeker said. "The (city) council should expand successful and popular neighborhood programs for trees to absorb pollutants."

Meeker also wants Raleigh to add fuel-efficient cars, like hybrids, to its fleet.

The EPA has given the Triangle three years to come up with a plan to fix the problem. Otherwise, it could lose millions in federal funding for highways.

In the meantime, being out of compliance could keep new businesses from moving to the region.

"We are going to be monitored," Hutchinson said. "So, it is going to impact economic development of our area. So, from that perspective, it's something we need to be proactive about."

North Caroilina also is one of 21 states that missed a federal deadline to adopt tougher health standards for monitoring water quality on beaches.

The mandate came down in 2000. Now, the EPA could withhold grant money if the states do not comply.