Clean Air for Kids


Kids Need Clean Air

Children need to breathe clean air. Their lungs are growing. Pound for pound, they take in more air than adults. They spend more time outside.

Polluted air impairs lung development. It also intensifies asthma attacks – attacks that affect one in 10 of North Carolina’s children.

The programs in Clean Air for Kids encourage schools, families and communities to explore air pollution and its effects on human health and climate change. Our hands-on activities help students learn about the dangers of particle and ozone pollution. They also cover practical steps to improve the air that children breathe.


 Children take in 50 percent more air per pound of body weight than adults. They typically spend more time outdoors, often in vigorous play. This means they breathe more air pollution than most adults.


Our programs help students, families and communities learn about the sources of air pollution, as well as its effects on human health and climate change.

Students use portable monitors to measure particle pollution at their schools. They plant ozone gardens and monitor the effects of ozone pollution on their plants. They Know the Code, track daily air quality predictions and display colored flags that alert fellow students to those predictions. They participate in Turn Off Your Engine campaigns that encourage drivers to consider the effects their vehicle emissions have on the air that students breathe.


Ozone Gardens


Our new Ozone Garden Toolkit is now available online! Start your own ozone garden and learn about air quality. Ozone sensitive plants make invisible air pollution visible.

Ozone Effects on Vegetation

Ground-level ozone causes considerable damage to vegetation throughout the world, including agricultural crops and native plants in natural ecosystems. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established an ozone standard to protect both human health and vegetation.

Ozone Bioindicators

Highly sensitive plant species exhibit very specific and distinctive foliar symptoms when exposed to ozone pollution. Many bioindicators show leaf damage at levels well below the EPA standards.

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), yellow crownbeard (Verbesina occidentalis), 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.

2019 Charlotte Ozone Garden Project Schools

  • Whitewater Middle School
  • Governors’ Village STEM Academy (Upper)
  • Piedmont Open IB Middle School
  • Northwest School of the Arts
  • J.T. Williams Montessori

What will 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 learning ways to protect their health by modifying their behavior when air quality is poor. 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.

Ozone Gardens in Mecklenburg County

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.

Carolina Raptor Center Ozone Gardens

In spring of 2016 an EarthShareNC partnership made it possible to install four small ozone gardens and four small pollinator gardens at the Carolina Raptor Center. Located near the eagle aviary, a team of volunteers from Piedmont Natural Gas helped improve the soil in existing raised beds and planted native plants including cut-leaf coneflowers which are sensitive to ground-level ozone. They are like the “canary in the coal mine”, as their leaves show characteristic damage when exposed to high levels of ground-level ozone. They help us become aware of dangerous air pollution. Air pollution harms plants, animals and people. Garden signage was installed to help people understand ways they can help air quality.

Air Quality Flag Program


When air quality is poor, it causes respiratory problems, especially among children and those already suffering from asthma and other chronic lung illnesses.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) uses the “Air Quality Index” (AQI) to help the community know when air quality reaches unhealthy levels so they can take appropriate action to protect their health.  The AQI is divided up into five different colors – each color corresponds to a different level of health concern.

The Air Quality Flag Program uses colored flags based on the Air Quality Index from the EPA to indicate the outdoor air quality for each day. The four color-coded flags are based on the Air Quality Index (AQI) from the NC Division of Air Quality.

Each morning, a colored flag is raised which corresponds to the color of the AQI for the region. The color of the flag indicates the level of air pollution and the recommended level of outdoor activity. By being aware of the air quality levels, you can take precautions to protect your family. The Air Quality Flag Program alerts organizations to the local air quality forecast and helps them to take actions to protect people’s health, including those with asthma.

Sign Up for Your Daily Air Quality Forecast

The best way to “know the code” is to sign up for a daily air quality forecast sent to you via email from the NC Division of Air Quality and US Environmental Protection Agency. Forecasts are sent at 3:00 p.m. daily so you can plan your next day’s activities based on the forecast.

To sign up for the Air Quality forecast, visit

You can also check the air quality forecast each day by dialing: 1-888-RU4NCAIR (1-888-784-6224)

Turn Off Your Engine


Have you ever left your car engine idling for more than a minute while waiting to pick up your child or sitting at a drive-thru window?  Many of us have.  And most of us don’t grasp the harm that can be done during those 60 short seconds. Idling increases the amount of preventable pollution released into the air and degrades our region’s already fragile air quality. Vehicle emissions from cars and trucks are one of the biggest contributors to North Carolina’s air quality problem.  According to the NC Division of Air Quality, and contrary to popular belief, idling a car for just 10 seconds uses more fuel than turning the engine off and restarting it.  Turning off your engine while waiting saves you money and improves the air your children breathe.

Children are the most vulnerable

Vehicle emissions alone harm our health, but add summertime heat to the mixture, and you’ve ‘baked up’ another, more dangerous problem – ozone pollution. Ground-level ozone pollution is formed by a chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted from cars and trucks, sunlight and hot weather. Ozone pollution contains tiny particles that penetrate deep into the lungs and irritate the respiratory system, exacerbating existing asthma. Children are the most vulnerable: their lungs are still developing, and they breathe faster than adults, taking in more dirty air.  With over 50,000 North Carolina children suffering from asthma, it rates as the most prevalent chronic illness in children and the number one reason for school absences.

Ironically, the most common place to find excessive idling is at school, where parents wait to pick up students.  To reduce air pollution and to save money and fuel, all North Carolina school systems must have an idle-reduction policy for school buses.  With the help of Centralina Council of Governments and Clean Air Carolina, Charlotte area school systems have installed “Turn Off Your Engine” signs in bus lots and carpool lanes to remind drivers, including parents, not to idle on school property.