Editorial: Monitoring air quality
When the American Lung Association ranked Rowan as one of the most ozone-polluted counties in the country back in 2003, it created quite an uproar, especially among local officials worried about what impact the attendant publicity might have on business recruitment, marketing, tourism and such.
Looking back, however, those monitors provided an important message. The data heightened our awareness of an important air quality issue and helped kick start local as well as regional initiatives to do something about it. The fact that ozone isnít being measured at a particular site obviously doesnít mean it isnít there. High levels of ozone can have important health implications, especially for those who are particularly susceptible to impaired lung function. We didnít have to wonder about ozone levels here; the numbers were there.
That lesson was brought home again last week at the Center for the Environment during discussion of an air quality study conducted by the centerís Campaign for Clean Air and Dr. Cindy Hauser of Davidson College. By temporarily placing monitors in locales in several other counties in the region (including two in South Carolina), the study found ozone levels that are comparable to or higher than those found in Rowan, which ranked 17th for ozone pollution nationally on the American Lung Associationís most recent report. (Mecklenburg was the next worst N.C. county, at 21st.) Those findings should come as no surprise here, but as noted by Dr. John Wear, the centerís executive director, many people in areas that arenít being monitored donít realize thereís a problem.
The good news is that air quality has improved in recent years. Cars and trucks emit fewer harmful emissions than in the past, and power companies are gradually phasing out or updating ancient, pollution belching generating plants like the Buck Steam Station in Rowan. While federal and state actions have helped, regional efforts and coordination have paid dividends through cross-jurisdictional transportation planning, land use and green space initiatives, ozone-awareness campaigns and other programs.
Individuals are also important. There are many actions we can take that affect air quality, from reducing unnecessary automobile trips and vehicular idling to avoiding outside burning (as noted in a letter to the editor elsewhere on the page). When enough individuals take those actions, it adds up.
Hereís something else monitoring tells us. Nationwide, air quality is headed in the right direction. With greater awareness and continued clean-air efforts, we can ensure that trend continues.