Did you know ground-level ozone is the most damaging air pollutant to plants?¹ If ozone pollution can damage a plant, imagine what it can do to our lungs. Ozone Gardens planted with North Carolina native plants such as cut-leaf coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), black-eyed susan (Rudbeckia hirta), and common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) demonstrate this impact by exhibiting signs of leaf injury when the plants are exposed to high levels of ozone pollution.
Clean Air Carolina is planting Ozone Gardens around the community and at schools in Charlotte to raise awareness about ground-level ozone air pollution and demonstrate its effect on delicate plants and human health.
School Ozone Gardens
Schools can use an Ozone Garden as an outdoor laboratory and an excellent hands-on component to a standard science curriculum. Using ozone-sensitive plants, educators and students can learn about air pollution’s effects on plant tissue by collecting and analyzing data on damaged leaves.
Schools participating in the 2015 Charlotte Ozone Garden Project are:
- Whitewater Middle School
- John M. Morehead STEM Academy
- Shamrock Gardens Elementary
- Piedmont Open IB Middle School
- Druid Hills Academy
What will the students learn?
By monitoring the plant’s bottom set of leaves, students are learning how air pollution affects both plant and human health. Signs of ozone damage appear most often during the summer, the day after a high ozone day. Tiny, evenly spaced purple or black dots, known as stippling, appear on leaf tops when the plant begins accumulating ozone damage². Eventually the leaves yellow, die and fall off.
In conjunction with the North Carolina Standard Course of Study, students are learning about the state of our local air quality, sources of air pollution, and health impacts on both plants and humans. They are also learning how our community is working to reduce air pollution and what they can do to improve our air quality.
How does air pollution affect children?
Due to high ozone levels, children in Charlotte are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the pollution. As they spend more time outside involved in vigorous activities, they have a greater demand for intake of air. With their respiratory systems still developing, they are most susceptible to permanent lung damage. Low-income children in particular suffer disproportionately from breathing polluted air near their homes or schools. Studies have shown that children who grow up breathing polluted air have reduced lung capacity by 15-20%.
Roughly ten percent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg students (over 14,000) have been diagnosed with asthma, with another ten percent having reported symptoms of asthma. Children of color are particularly affected by air quality due to higher rates of asthma. The installation of ozone gardens will directly connect the issues of local air pollution and children’s health.
McDowell Nature Preserve Ozone Garden
Thanks to sponsorship from Daimler Truck Financial and assistance from Mecklenburg County Parks and Recreation, an Ozone Garden was installed in 2014 at McDowell Nature Preserve in South Mecklenburg County. Volunteers helped build a raised bed, install ozone-sensitive plants and mulch the new garden. Educational signage was added and park staff will begin using the garden to teach the community how air pollution impacts all living things – plants, animals, and humans.
Little Sugar Creek Greenway Ozone Garden
In 2012, we planted our first public Ozone Garden on the Little Sugar Creek Greenway near Westfield Road in Charlotte, NC. Volunteers from Premier, Inc assisted with building a retaining wall, filling it with soil, planting flowers and spreading mulch as well as planting three trees donated by Mecklenburg County Park & Recreation. An educational sign was installed to demonstrate how ozone pollution affects plants and human health. Special thanks to Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, Hands On Charlotte and Premier, Inc for partnering with Clean Air Carolina on this important community education initiative.
Belk’s Charlotte Corporate Campus “Clean Air Garden”
In spring of 2015 our first corporate ozone garden was created at the Belk Corporate Campus in Charlotte. They call it the “Clean Air Garden” and use it to raise awareness about air quality with their employees.