This summer, Clean Air Carolina intern, Xirui (Coraline) Xu, and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air (MAHA) intern, Peijia Yan, compiled Air Quality Health Reports for nine counties in North Carolina. The reports provide an overview of air quality in each county, examine the health impacts of air pollution exposure, and identify populations vulnerable to respiratory diseases correlated with ambient air pollution.
The Air Quality Health Reports focus on nine North Carolina counties— Richmond, Hoke, Cumberland, Cabarrus, New Hanover, Guilford, Forsyth, Catawba, and Robeson— which were designated as high-priority areas by Clean Air Carolina. High-priority status was given to counties in which high air toxics emissions from sources such as highways or industry threaten the health of residents.
Data Visualization: The EPA EJSCREEN Tool
The intern team used EJSCREEN, an online EPA tool, to identify air pollution exposure disparities faced by communities in high-priority counties in North Carolina. EJSCREEN is a geographic information system (GIS) tool that allows users to generate reports containing maps and statistics that combine sociodemographic and environmental factors at the local, state, and national levels. To visualize vulnerable populations in each county, air permit sites and highways were added to a base map of low-income populations. Base maps of ozone or fine particulate matter (PM2.5 ) were also used for analysis in those counties with state air monitors.
To provide meaningful information on the health effects of air pollution, information gathered from EJSCREEN was combined with data from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NCDEQ) and the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics (NCSCHS). The final Air Quality Health Reports contain data on large pollution emissions from facilities with Title V permits, hospitalization and mortality rates for diseases related to asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease and stroke, along with the economic costs of medical care for air pollution-related health issues.
Why Air Quality Health Impact Reports Matter
The goals of the Air Quality Health Reports are to provide policymakers an understanding of the health impacts of polluted air on constituents, educate North Carolina residents on air quality and health in their counties, and to equip individuals with a tool to help advocate for community-based air monitors networks.
A 2015 health survey revealed that an estimated 8.2% of adults in North Carolina reported having asthma, a large population that is particularly sensitive to the damaging health effects of particle pollution and ozone. Yet among the 100 counties in North Carolina, only 30 counties host air monitors. It is imperative to monitor air in every county across the state in order to accurately identify areas in need of resources to reduce air pollution and improve public health. Clean Air Carolina’s new AirKeepers Citizen Science program seeks to do just that by partnering with concerned citizens and communities across the state to learn more about their air and be a part of the solution. Tools such as the Air Quality Health Reports will be useful in helping these communities join Clean Air Carolina in advocating for clean air policies across North Carolina.
North Carolina Monitoring Network
The North Carolina monitoring network consists of 53 Monitoring Sites: 42 are operated by the North Carolina Division of Air Quality (DAQ), four are operated by Mecklenburg County Air Quality (MCAQ), four are operated by Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency (WNC), and three operated by Forsyth County.
Born and raised in Beijing, China, Xirui (Coraline) Xu is currently an Environmental Studies student on the Natural Science track at Davidson College. Because of Coraline’s passion for air quality science, Davidson College selected her as a Sustainability Scholar. Coraline interned at Clean Air Carolina this summer to work on the AirKeepers Citizen Science program and the EJSCREEN Air Quality Health Reports.
Peijia Yan is currently an Environmental Management graduate student at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. Peijia is in the Ecotoxicology and Environmental Health concentration and is interested in air quality-related health problems. As a Medical Advocates for Healthy Air (MAHA) intern, Peija researched air quality-related health topics, wrote about recently-published research, and helped Clean Air Carolina build a North Carolina air quality health dataset.