Report: Charlotte in country’s top ten for smog

by | Sep 26, 2011

(September 21, 2011)  The Charlotte area has had more unhealthy air days in 2011 than all but seven other cities nationwide, according to Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011.  The analysis also showed that under the more protective smog standard President Obama delayed early this month, the number of days considered unhealthy to breathe in Charlotte could more than double.

“North Carolinians deserve clean air.  But on far too many days, people in Charlotte, Gastonia, Salisbury and Rock Hill are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” said Elizabeth Ouzts, Environment North Carolina State Director.  “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe,” she added.

The report reveals preliminary data showing that Charlotte area residents have already been exposed to 21 unhealthy air days in 2011.  There were 17 recorded unhealthy air days in 2010, more than those registered in Dallas, TX; Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; and New York, NY.

On 20 additional days in the Charlotte area last year, the report found that smog levels were considered unsafe by a national scientific panel, but because of outdated federal air quality standards, were officially considered healthy.  As a result, those at risk weren’t alerted to dangerous levels of smog pollution.

The Obama administration considered updating the standard this year to protect public health, but earlier this month announced it would abandon this effort until 2013.

“Smog pollution has left our children and people with asthma, like me, gasping for breath,” said Sarah Gay, Clean Air Carolina Board Member.  “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect us from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road.  Charlotte’s kids, senior citizens and people with respiratory problems deserve better.”

Smog, also known as ozone, is one of the most harmful and pervasive air pollutants.  Formed when pollution from cars, power plants, and industrial facilities reacts with other pollutants in the presence of sunlight, smog is most severe in the warm, summer months.

Children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illnesses suffer the most from high levels of smog pollution.  Children who grow up in areas with high levels of smog may develop diminished lung capacity, putting them at greater risk of lung disease later in life.  Even among healthy adults, repeat exposure to smog pollution over time permanently damages lung tissue, decreases the ability to breathe normally, exacerbates chronic diseases like asthma, and can even cause premature death.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency is required to set a national standard for smog pollution according to the latest science on air quality and public health.  However, the current standard was set at a level that EPA’s own board of independent scientists agree is not adequately protective of public health.

A strong standard could save up to 12,000 lives and prevent up to 58,000 asthma attacks each year.  The EPA was poised to update the standard to reflect the latest science this summer, but President Obama delayed those revised standards on September 2.

At the same time, polluters and their allies in the House of Representatives are threatening to make the problem even worse by pushing through a bill – the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401) – to roll back existing smog pollution standards from power plants.

“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” said Elizabeth Ouzts of Environment North Carolina. “President Obama and North Carolina’s members of Congress should stand up for our health and oppose any attacks to the Clean Air Act, including voting against a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would roll back existing clean air protections for smog and other deadly pollutants.”

Download the Report: Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011

Watch news Coverage: Named One of America’s Smoggiest Cities (WCNC Channel 36)

Environment North Carolina is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization, working for clean air, clean water, and protecting open spaces from the Blue Ridge to the Outer Banks.  For more information: www.EnvironmentNorthCarolina.org.

Clean Air Carolina is a non-profit organization based in Charlotte, NC.  Our mission is to ensure cleaner air quality for all by educating the community about how air quality affects our health, advocating for stronger clean air policies, and partnering with other organizations committed to cleaner air and sustainable practices.  For more information: www.CleanAirCarolina.org.

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