Climate ChangeClimate change is taking place before our eyes and the burning of fossil fuels is the major contributor.
Carbon dioxide emissions associated with combustion of coal, oil, and natural gas warm the atmosphere and radiate energy in all directions, including back to the surface of the earth. These “greenhouse gases” have increased dramatically over the last century causing global surface temperatures, including ocean temperatures, to rise. Most of the warming has taken place in the past 35 years. Each year since 2001 has been hotter than the prior year.
In North Carolina we see evidence of a changing climate from the mountains to the sea. When forests are healthy and grow, carbon is removed from the atmosphere and absorbed in wood, leaves and soil. But temperature changes cause life cycles of insects and disease-carrying pathogens to increase stress on trees. Drought conditions increase the risk of wildfires. As trees are lost through fire and disease, carbon is released back into the atmosphere which reinforces the cycle of climate change. Air pollution from wildfires in the mountains in 2016 impacted communities across the Piedmont.
Coastal and low-lying communities in Eastern North Carolina are seeing the effects of extreme weather events caused by climate change. Increased flooding, sea level rise, eroding beaches and infrastructure, and salinization of aquifers and wetlands all threaten our state’s residents, wildlife, fragile ecosystems as well as our economy. Our coastline is one of the three most vulnerable places on the East Coast vulnerable to sea level rise after South Florida and Norfolk. Our pristine Outer Banks are most at risk. To learn more about the climate risks to North Carolina, see this EPA fact sheet.
Clean Air Carolina advocates for strong public policies at all levels of government that will quickly transform our energy sector from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy sources including solar, wind and geothermal. We encourage all North Carolinians who care about future generations and the health of the planet to get involved with our efforts by volunteering.
Particle PollutionParticulate pollution, consists of solid particles and liquid droplets, or particulate matter, found in the air.
Some particles, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. Others are so small they can only be detected using an electron microscope. These particles come in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals.
Some particles are emitted directly from a source, such as construction sites, unpaved roads, fields, smokestacks or fires. Most particles form in the atmosphere as a result of complex reactions of chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides, which are pollutants emitted from power plants, industries and automobiles.
Particulate matter is often referred to by its size. For example, PM10 refers to particles smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter, and PM2.5 refers to particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, or 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair. Particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because once in the lungs, they can cross into the blood stream and be deposited in various areas of the body, including the brain.
Fine particles (PM2.5) are the main cause of reduced visibility (haze) in parts of the United States, including many of our treasured national parks and wilderness areas.
There is no safe level of exposure for particle pollution. Scientists are finding adverse health consequences for exposure to particle pollution at levels meeting current EPA and state standards. Particulate matter levels can vary significantly from place to place even within a small geographical area. For example, levels can be high at a busy intersection and lower in a park a few blocks away. Therefore, the current practice of measuring particulate pollution levels using a sparse network of stationary air quality monitors provides inadequate information about individual-level exposure. Clean Air Carolina is working with the EPA and other partners to explore the potential of neighborhood-level air quality monitoring to identify areas where public health may be particularly at-risk due to particle pollution.
Ozone PollutionOzone pollution is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds in the presence of sunlight.
Ground level or “bad” ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of NOx and VOC.
Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma. Ground level ozone can also have harmful effects on sensitive vegetation and ecosystems.
Several North Carolina counties have experienced challenges attaining the ozone level set by the EPA. Our state’s rapid population growth threatens the ability for these counties to continue to achieve this level. Clean Air Carolina is working to improve North Carolina’s monitoring of ozone and to promote policies that would reduce the emissions contributing to ozone production. Our Ozone Garden program provides hands-on learning in schools and public places showing evidence of ozone pollution on sensitive plants.
Diesel PollutionDiesel exhaust from trucks, buses, trains and construction equipment is a major source of air pollution.
Diesel pollution contains 40 toxic compounds associated with a wide range of adverse health impacts. These include asthma, heart and lung diseases, cancer and premature death. In June 2012, the World Health Organization declared diesel fumes to be more carcinogenic than second-hand smoke. A toxic mixture of tiny fine and ultrafine carbon soot particles and gases, diesel exhaust kills an estimated 21,000 Americans every year.
Black carbon in diesel exhaust also plays a role in climate change. Unlike carbon dioxide which stays in the atmosphere over 100 years, black carbon only lasts several weeks but does plenty of damage during that time. Soot travels long distances ending in the Arctic, absorbing heat in the atmosphere and depositing on snow and ice. This causes additional melting. Learn more by watching this 2-minute video “Stop Soot, Black Carbon and Global Warming” by our partners at Earthjustice.
The good news is that EPA rules require that new diesel engines have filters to reduce diesel soot by 90%. Clean Air Carolina is promoting the use of new engines on construction sites.
GenX Air Pollution Health Effects
In October 2017, Chemours spilled GenX, a chemical used in the production of Teflon™, into the Cape Fear River, the drinking water source for Wilmington. This has lead to an N.C. Department of Environmental Quality investigation and more research on the chemical, whose health effects are largely unknown. GenX has also been found in private wells near the Chemours manufacturing plant in Bladen County. This could be due to air emissions of perfluorinated compounds related to GenX at the Chemours facility, raising questions about the air pollution health effects of GenX along with the drinking water exposure.
Unfortunately, little is known about the health effects and exposure pathways of GenX and its related compounds. North Carolina State University and East Carolina University received a grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences to assess current exposure to GenX and related chemicals in people living in the Lower Cape Fear River Basin. This is the first step in understanding the health effects and exposure of GenX, but more funding and research is needed to fully understand the impacts on Eastern North Carolinians.