Local News

N.C. air quality improves

Posted August 5, 2008 5:50 p.m. EDT
Updated August 5, 2008 7:13 p.m. EDT

— The number and intensity of high ozone days caused by heat and pollution has steadily declined over the past decade, state scientists said Tuesday.

Tom Mather of the state Division of Air Quality said the air is definitely cleaner. While there are more car exhausts on state roads, the vehicles are newer and more efficient, Mather said. Gas and diesel are also burning cleaner.

State emissions tests have become more prevalent than ever, Mather said.

Another change has been the Clean Smokestacks Act, enacted in 2002 to force coal-fired power plants to reduce their pollution by 75 percent.

“We've had some pretty big changes over the last few years,” Mather said.

The changes have made a clean difference – a steady downward trend in high ozone days statewide.

The state has steadily improved its air quality to get closer to Environmental Protection Agency standards. Then in March, the EPA toughened the standards. Now, it’s estimated about a third of the state falls short of the new guidelines.

Air Quality officials said it could take another decade to reach compliance

The summer of 2007 set records in heat and drought. Sixty-six high ozone days were reported then using the latest EPA standards. Ten years ago, there were 101 high ozone days.

“We've got less pollution going into the air and ultimately that means cleaner air for us to breathe,” Mather said.

Deborah Bryan of the American Lung Association isn’t breathing easy over the improved air statistics.

“We're better, but it won't stay that way unless we continue to make improvements and make reductions,” Bryan said.

Bryan suggests driving less, carpooling more and improving public transportation.

The ozone layer is above the surface of the earth and protects people from cancer causing solar ultraviolet radiation, according to the EPA. Ground level ozone can damage lung tissue and cause shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, and eye and nose irritation.