Seniors voice concerns about air at wellness fair
By Kathy Chaffin
Center for the Environment
“If we breathe, it’s a concern.”
That’s what Fran Duggan of southern Cabarrus County had to say about local air quality at the annual Senior Health & Wellness Day on Wednesday at the Cabarrus Arena and Events Center.
Her friend, Nancy Paris of Concord, said she was also concerned about air quality. After stopping by the Center for the Environment’s Campaign for Clean Air display at the event, she commented that she found it interesting that a local college was getting involved.
“I told them I’d be willing to volunteer to help,” she said.
Paris, who has asthma and allergies, said she stays inside on days with high ozone warnings and doesn’t understand why the government is not being more proactive about improving air quality.
“They keep saying, ‘Well, we need to let industries do what they need to do so we’ll have more jobs,’ ” she said. “Well, it doesn’t do any good to have more jobs if we’re dying because we can’t breathe and have poor quality of life.”
Paris said she is also concerned about water quality and was pleased to find out about the Yadkin Riverkeeper — a nonprofit organization set up to respect, protect and improve the Yadkin Pee Dee River Basin through education, advocacy and action — after moving from Wilmington to Concord. While in Wilmington, she supported the work the Cape Fear Riverwatch did to protect the river from harmful discharges by local businesses and industries.
Duggan said she also stays inside on high ozone days because of her allergies.
Paris added: “I think most older people, whether they have asthma or respiratory issues or not, feel the effect when the air gets so bad.”
Rowan’s bad air
Both were surprised that the area had such poor air quality. The American Lung Association’s 2011 State of the Air Report ranks Rowan County as being the 17th worst county in the nation (of those monitored) for ozone pollution, and one of the air monitors is located near the Rowan/Cabarrus county line.
“That’s amazing because Rowan’s very rural,” Duggan said.
Paris added: “But you’re on that (Interstate) 85 corridor, and there’s a lot of traffic and a lot of industries along there.”
Results of a Piedmont North Carolina summer air monitoring program the Center for the Environment’s Campaign for Clean Air conducted last year in partnership with Davidson College found ozone levels to be consistent in all seven counties in the study, including Rowan and Cabarrus.
Frances Bingham of Concord also stopped by the Center for the Environment’s Campaign for Clean Air exhibit table featuring information on local air quality. She was diagnosed with asthma in 1982 and said she restricts her outdoor activities on high ozone days. “I have to worry about breathing,” she said. “When it’s hotter, I’m more guarded.”
Betty Robinson, who lived in California before moving to Concord, said she didn’t realize the local air quality was a concern. However, because she leaves in June to stay in Maine until the end of September, she is not directly affected by it.
May 1 through September 30 is considered North Carolina’s ground-level ozone season even though monitoring starts on April 1 and continues through the end of October.
Vickie Julian, a member of the Cabarrus County Master Gardener Volunteer Association, said air quality is a big concern for her. “I have to breathe,” she said. “I’m interested in how we keep it clean and how I can help.”
Even though she takes prescription medicine for a respiratory-related disease, Julian said she rarely stays inside — even on high ozone days — because those are usually the nice days when she wants to get out and work as a master gardener.
Air pollution lessons
Center for the Environment interns Erin Blackburn of Denver, N.C., and June McDowell of Salisbury greeted the more than 200 people who stopped by the exhibit table during the five-hour event and talked with them about air quality issues.
Blackburn, who earned an environmental education degree from Catawba in 2011, said several mentioned having respiratory diseases such as asthma. “They wanted to get all of the information they could on the color codes of the Air Quality Index,” she said.
Many picked up refrigerator magnets on the exhibit table with the color codes and explanations of each, which were provided by the N.C. Division of Air Quality. The index includes five colors ranging from Code Green for good air quality with no health effects expected to Code Purple for very unhealthy air quality with everyone encouraged to avoid all exertion.
Code Orange, the third color on the index, indicates unhealthy air quality for sensitive groups. Children, active people, older adults and those with heart or lung diseases are encouraged to limit prolonged or heavy exertion on these days.
Blackburn and McDowell, who graduated from Catawba in 2010 with an environmental science degree, said people wanted to give them to their grandchildren.
When people who stopped by the exhibit table saw or heard how high Rowan County ranked for ozone pollution, “Some were actually familiar that Rowan ranked pretty high,” McDowell said, adding that others were shocked by the news.