According to the American Lung Association’s 2009 State of the Air report, the Charlotte metro region ranks eighth highest among the nation’s smoggiest cities, up from last year’s thirteenth spot. Once again, the report gives Mecklenburg County a failing grade for its high levels of ozone pollution.
Ozone pollution is Charlotte’s most widespread air quality problem, particularly during the warmest months, and vehicle emissions are the biggest contributor to ozone in Mecklenburg County. For the past several years, the Charlotte region has failed to meet federal ozone standards set forth by the Environmental Protection Agency in 2004 and will face an even tougher time meeting the new standards strengthened in early 2008. Therefore, the region stands to lose federal highway dollars and is likely to inherit tough emissions restrictions on new industry.
High ozone levels are especially harmful to children since their respiratory systems are still developing and vulnerable to the effects of dirty air. Children also spend more time outside at higher activity levels causing them to take in more air pollution. Asthma is a growing concern in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools. In 2007, 16% of middle school and 18% of high school students reported having been told by a doctor or nurse they have asthma.
A recent study published in the New England Journal of Medicine also shows the Charlotte region as an ozone hot spot in the country. Researchers have found that people living in cities with chronically high ozone levels have a 30% higher chance of dying from respiratory illnesses. In order to reverse this trend elected officials must implement effective solutions now that will protect public health and ensure an environmentally sustainable future for NC residents and visitors.