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Rowan air quality no better

By Kathy Chaffin
Center for the Environment
SALISBURY — Though the levels are down from last year, the American Lung Association’s 2011 State of the Air Report shows the Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury metro region, which includes Cabarrus County, still at 10th in the nation for the worst ozone pollution of regions monitored.
The 12th annual report also has Rowan County continuing as the 17th worst in the nation for ozone pollution of counties with monitors collecting data.
Tom Mather, public information officer for the N.C. Division of Air Quality, said it’s important in analyzing the report to look at overall trends. “We have seen substantial improvement in air quality across the state for the past 20 years in ozone levels,” he said, “and we expect that to continue.”
John Wear, director of the Center for the Environment at Catawba College, said he hopes the reduction in ozone levels reflects all the cumulative efforts of people working in Rowan and Cabarrus counties and all across the region to reduce harmful ozone emissions. “There are many different ways it’s being approached,” he said.
Wear said weather conditions and variations due to the economy also play a role in the rankings.
Mather agreed that a number of ongoing efforts have contributed to that improvement, including the Clean Smokestacks Act. Passed in 2002, the legislation requires utilities to reduce emissions at coal-fired plants by about three-fourths.
This year’s American Lung Association report shows that the majority of American cities most-polluted by ozone (smog) or year-round particle pollution (soot) have improved, attributing it to continued progress in the cleanup of deadly toxins as part of the Clean Air Act.
The American Lung Association air quality report, available in its entirety at www.stateoftheair.org, reveals that just over half the nation — 154.5 million people — live in areas with levels of ozone or particle pollution, or both, that are often dangerous to breathe.
The report identifies the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif., region as the worst ozone-polluted area in the nation. Of the other nine ranking above the Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury region, six are in California, one comprises the Sacramento region and a section of Nevada and the other is the Houston-Baytown-Huntsville region in Texas.
The Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury region is the only one in the East to make the worst ozone-polluted list.
Rowan is one of North Carolina counties on the list of the 25 most ozone-polluted counties in the nation (again, all counties are not monitored). Rowan — with its 140,798 population — actually ranked higher than Mecklenburg with a population of 913,639. Mecklenburg tied with two other counties for the 21st-place ranking.
All of the worst ozone-polluted counties received a grade of F from the American Cancer Society along with many other counties ranking below the top 25.
The 2011 State of the Air Report identifies people at risk in the worst ozone-polluted counties. In Rowan, the list includes:
• 33,135 children and youth under the age of 18;
• 20,938 seniors age 65 and older;
• 2,842 children and youth with pediatric asthma;
• 8,364 adults with asthma;
• 4,817 people with chronic bronchitis;
• 2,519 people with emphysema; and
• 22,778 people living in poverty.
Other North Carolina counties with monitor collecting data — though they were not among the 25 worst in the country — receiving a grade of F from the American Lung Association included: Alexander, Caswell, Cumberland, Davie, Durham, Edgecombe, Forsyth, Franklin, Graham, Granville, Guilford, Haywood, Johnston, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Person, Pitt, Rockingham, Union, Wake and Yancey.
Swain was the only county in the state to receive an A, and Avery and New Hanover were the only two to receive Bs.
In 2003, the American Lung Association ranked Rowan as the 16th worst ozone-polluted county in the United States, which led the Center for the Environment to launch its first air quality initiative. Its current Campaign for Clean Air, which began in 2009, works to educate people in Rowan and Cabarrus counties and the surrounding region on the causes and dangers of ozone pollution and empowers them to take action to improve the air quality.

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