New Air Quality Report Finds North Carolinas Ozone Pollution Worsened, Year-Round Particle Pollution Improved

More work to be done to protect the health of residents from the harms of ozone pollution according to new American Lung Association air quality report

The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found North Carolina has earned mixed grades for the nation’s most widespread air pollutants. Compared to the 2017 report, some North Carolina metro areas has have seen an increase in ozone pollution slightly. This is in keeping with a trend seen across the nation of higher ozone pollution levels. Charlotte ranks 41st as the most polluted city in the nation for ozone. Fayetteville, Lumberton, Laurinburg, Greenville, Washington, Hickory, Lenoir, New Bern, Morehead City, Rocky Mount, Wilson, Roanoke Rapids, and Wilmington experienced zero unhealthy air days and were named among the cleanest cities for ozone pollution.

Charlotte, Concord, Fayetteville, Lumberton, Laurinburg, Greenville, Washington, and Wilmington were ranked among the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution and experienced zero unhealthy air days. Wilmington was the only city in the state to be featured on the cleanest cities list for year-round particle pollution.

“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report reveals that unhealthful levels of pollution put our citizens at risk,” said June Deen, Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Health Promotions for the American Lung Association in North Carolina. “Ozone pollution and particle pollution are two of the most widespread and dangerous air pollutants. Breathing these pollutants can cause asthma attacks, respiratory and cardiovascular harm, and even early death. Breathing particle pollution can also cause lung cancer. Despite the recent increase in ozone pollution, the “State of the Air” 2018 report shows that the Clean Air Act has worked to clean up much of the dangerous air pollution across the nation for decades. The air is cleaner, but not clean enough to protect people’s health from harm. And climate change will continue to make both ozone pollution and particle pollution harder to clean up.”

Across the nation, the report found continued improvement in air quality, but still, more than four in 10 Americans – 133.9 million – live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution, where their health is at risk.

The trends reported in this year’s report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2014-2016, reflect the ongoing challenges to reduce each pollutant in the changing political and outdoor climate.

“We can and should do more to protect our air and to save lives,” Deen said. “The Lung Association in North Carolina calls on our members of Congress to defend the Clean Air Act, currently under threat from those who want to weaken this effective public health law. We also call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement and enforce the law instead of trying to roll back major safeguards like the Clean Power Plan and cleaner cars, both steps that help us fight climate change and reduce air pollution.”

Each year the “State of the Air” provides a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution, also known as smog, and particle pollution, also called soot. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can increase the risk of premature death and other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.

Ozone Pollution in North Carolina
Compared to the 2017 report, some North Carolina cities experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. In fact, Asheville, Brevard, Charlotte, Concord, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill experienced more unhealthy days of ozone. Charlotte ranks 41st as the most polluted city in the nation for ozone.  However, looking back to the period with the worst ozone levels in 1997-99 when the weighted average was 92.2 days, Mecklenburg County has made great progress.

“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Deen. “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room. Ozone can even shorten life itself.”

This report documents how warmer temperatures brought by climate change make ozone more likely to form and harder to clean up. This year’s report showed that ozone levels increased in most cities nationwide, in large part due to warmer temperatures in 2016, the second hottest year on record in the U.S. Over the past decades, ozone pollution has decreased nationwide because the nation has cleaned up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles.

Particle Pollution in North Carolina
The 2018 report also found year-round particle pollution levels slightly lower than the 2017 report. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. Wilmington was the only city in the state to be featured on the cleanest cities list year-round particle pollution however Asheville, Brevard, Charlotte, Concord, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill all continued to see lower levels of year-round particle pollution.

“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal,” said Deen. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”

“State of the Air” 2018 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The report found that North Carolina has fewer days when short-term particle pollution has reached unhealthy levels in 2014-2016. This continues a trend toward fewer short-term spikes in particle pollution in North Carolina. However, Asheville, Brevard, Greensboro, Winston-Salem, High Point, Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill had slightly worse levels and experienced more unhealthy air days in short-term pollution. The Ashville-Brevard area tied for 26th most polluted for short-term particle pollution possibly from the wildfire smoke in 2016.

While the report examined data from 2014-2016, this 19th annual report provides online information on air pollution trends back to the first report covering 1996-1998. Learn more about city rankings, as well as air quality across North Carolina and the nation, in the 2018 “State of the Air” report at For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, and threats to air quality, contact Britney Reddick at [email protected] or 470-233-7030.

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