Catawba center gets I-85 air quality grant

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Sara Gregory
State officials have awarded Catawba College’s Center for the Environment a project aimed at improving air quality in the Interstate 85 corridor.
The N.C. Department of Transportation grant will focus on ground-level ozone and ways to mitigate its harmful effects on I-85 communities.
The state will pay 80 percent of the $1.3 million project, and the Center for the Environment must raise the rest.
“A lot of this will look at ways we can reduce our impact” on the region’s air, Dr. John Wear, director of the Center for the Environment, said. “There are a whole variety of ways that we can look at how we reduce our impact.”
The grant will allow the center to continue efforts it began in 2003 after the American Lung Association ranked Rowan County as the county with the worst air in the state.
“It was kind of a beacon that told everybody maybe we ought to start looking at this,” Wear said.
Awareness has increased since then, he said, making it easier to tackle the problem.
“People are really beginning to think about it,” he said. “If you’re not aware of it, you’re really not going to do anything about it.”
Rowan County still received an “F” rating in the Lung Association’s 2008 State of the Air report, but Wear said air quality is best viewed as a regional, not a county, issue.
That’s why this grant money will be used to expand the initial efforts to Cabarrus County, Wear said. He’s open to working with any group that has an interest in improving air quality.
“We’ll be focusing especially on Rowan and Cabarrus counties, and we’ll be looking at ways we can get people enlightened to ways we can improve our air quality,” he said.
Both counties struggle with automobile congestion and chemicals brought here by wind patterns from industries in Charlotte.
“We produce some things here, and some of it’s coming from other places,” Wear said.
The result is a “chemical soup” that results in ozone problems and poor air quality.
The center plans workshops, a Web site, multimedia educational tools for schools and lectures to continue raising awareness with the grant.
The grant money also will be used to look at how to mitigate congestion, either through existing transit options, shared rides or bicycle and pedestrian movement.
“We hope to have a whole variety of sponsors in Rowan and Cabarrus,” Wear said. “This project will even have a broader base of support.”