Charlotte 10th Smoggiest City Second Year in a Row

May 2, 2011

On April 27, 2011, the American Lung Association released its annual report on air quality, State of the Air 2011, which includes lists of the nation’s most polluted metropolitan areas. The State of the Air 2011 report grades cities and counties based, in part, on the color-coded Air Quality Index developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report uses the most recent EPA data collected from 2007 through 2009 for ozone and particle pollution, the two most widespread types of air pollution. Though some progress has been made, the 2011 report ranks Charlotte the 10th smoggiest city for the second year in a row. Mecklenburg County ranks the 21st ozone-polluted county in the U.S., one notch up from last year’s 22nd position.

Press Conference at John Motley Morehead STEM Academy
Breaking Ground for New Ozone Garden at Morehead Academy

For over eight years Clean Air Carolina has led the call for cleaner air to improve health and the quality of life in the Charlotte region. We continue to educate the community about how air quality affects our health, advocate for stronger clean air policies, and partner with other organizations committed to cleaner air and sustainable practices. Clean Air Carolina held a press conference on Thursday, April 28 at John Motley Morehead STEM Academy to announce Charlotte’s continued ozone problem and our organization’s clean air initiatives. Executive Director June Blotnick highlighted our two most recent educational programs: the Charlotte Ozone Garden Project, a partnership with four Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, and the 5K Run for Clean Air scheduled for Saturday, May 14 at McAlpine Creek Park.

Read an article highlighting Clean Air Carolina’s Ozone Garden project published in today’s The Charlotte Observer, Charlotte Still Near Top of Smog List.

One in Five Americans Breathe Dangerous Levels of Deadly Particle Air Pollution

Nearly 60 million Americans (19.8 percent) live in counties with too many unhealthy spikes in particle pollution levels, and 18 million people live with unhealthy year-round levels of particle pollution. Particle levels can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end (short-term) or remain at unhealthy levels on average every day (year-round).

“Particle pollution kills,” said Norman H. Edelman, M.D., American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer. “When you breathe these microscopic particles, you are inhaling a noxious mix of chemicals, metals, acid aerosols, ash and soot that is emitted from smokestacks, tailpipes, and other sources. It is as toxic as it sounds and can lead to early death, asthma exacerbations, heart attacks, strokes and emergency room visits in substantial numbers. Science clearly has proven that we need to protect the health of the public from the dangers of particle pollution.”

Only 10 counties received an “F” for year-round particle pollution, a reflection of progress made under the Clean Air Act. Bakersfield, Calif. tops both lists of cities most-polluted by short-term and annual particle pollution. Bakersfield and Hanford, Calif. were the only two cities where year-round particle levels worsened over the previous report.

Nearly Half of Nation Lives in Areas that Scored “F” for Smog

State of the Air 2011 finds that nearly half the people in the U.S. (48.2 percent) live in counties that received an “F” for air quality due to unhealthy ozone levels. Ozone (smog) is the most widespread air pollutant, created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles, power plants and other sources. When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs. It can cause immediate health problems and continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and even premature death.

Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif. remains the metropolitan area with the worst ozone problem, although great improvements have been made since the report was first issued.

Congress Threatens to Weaken Federal Law Despite Americans’ Support for Stronger ControlsSome members of Congress are proposing to weaken or block enforcement of the Clean Air Act, including steps to strip legal authority and funding from the EPA. Such moves would undermine the cleanup that remains, including the long-overdue cleanup of power plants EPA recently proposed. As the Lung Association pointed out in its March report on toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants, the pollution from over 440 coal-fired power plants in 46 states are among the biggest contributors to ozone and particle pollution in the U.S. In addition, these plants produce 84 known hazardous air pollutants like arsenic, mercury, dioxins, formaldehyde and hydrogen chloride, which blow across state lines polluting the air thousands of miles away from the plants. Since this pollution spreads across state lines, the EPA’s ability to enforce standards is the only protection many communities have.

The American Lung Association released a bipartisan poll in February that showed Americans overwhelmingly support efforts for even tougher air quality standards, and oppose Congressional action that interferes with the EPA’s ability to update clean air standards. “Some in Congress are working to weaken the Clean Air Act and care more about protecting the interests of industry polluters than the health of Americans,” said Connor.

A bipartisan Congress passed the Clean Air Act more than 40 years ago and has twice strengthened it to protect public health. The Clean Air Act saved more than 160,000 lives in 2010, according to EPA’s data. “Very few of us can avoid dangerous air pollution and unfortunately the heaviest burden often falls on those who are least able to bear it. These are the same people Congress and Administrations of both parties have promised to protect. The American Lung Association is committed to keeping the law strong to protect public health, including our children and our elderly and people who suffer from lung disease.”

The American Lung Association urges the public to voice support for the EPA to continue to protect the air in every community by visiting and to learn how their communities rank in State of the Air 2011 by visiting For the first time, people can compare the findings for different metropolitan areas online.

10 Most Ozone-Polluted Cities
1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
2. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
3. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
4. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
5. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Yuba City, Calif.-Nev.
6. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
7. San Diego-Carlsbad-San arcos, Calif.
8. Houston-Baytown-Huntsville, Texas
9. Merced, Calif.
10. Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury, N.C.-S.C.

10 Cities Most Polluted by Short-term Particle Pollution
1. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
2. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
3. Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
4. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
5. Salt Lake City-Ogden-Clearfield, Utah
6. Provo-Orem, Utah
7. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
8. Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Ala.
9. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
9. Logan, Utah-Idaho
9. Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Yuba City, Calif.-Nev.
10 Cities Most Polluted by Year-Round Particle Pollution
1. Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
2. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif.
2. Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, Ariz.
2. Visalia-Porterville, Calif.
5. Hanford-Corcoran, Calif.
6. Fresno-Madera, Calif.
7.Pittsburgh-New Castle, Pa.
8. Birmingham-Hoover-Cullman, Ala.
9. Cincinnati-Middletown-Wilmington, Ohio-Ky.-Ind.
10.Louisville-Jefferson County-Elizabethtown-Scottsburg, Ky.-Ind.
10.Modesto, Calif.