Despite gusty winds, dust-dry forests and interminable drought, firefighters made significant headway over the last week toward containing Western North Carolina’s explosive wildfire season, jumping on new starts to keep their acreages low and limiting existing fires to minimal acreage growth.
Breathing easy in the Smokies is a better bet than it’s been in decades. Ozone pollution is down 36 percent, and particle pollution has been cut in half. The mountain view on the haziest days now extends nearly four times as far as it did in 1998. Streams harmed by acid rain are starting to recover.
All stats that are cause for celebration, said a group of air quality leaders gathered on Purchase Knob in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park last week.
Evergreen Packaging paper mill in Canton could get $12 million in state assistance to offset the cost of converting from coal to natural gas, if a proposal pending in the General Assembly goes through.
Western North Carolina for now has dodged concerns that it was getting short shrift in a legal settlement intended to compensate the region for air pollution blowing in from dirty coal plants operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority in neighboring states.
Feeling a bit stuffy these days? You’re not alone — stagnating weather patterns and excessive heat, coupled with a heavy pollen load, made for difficult breathing conditions for some this month.
Take Joan McDonald, 66, of St. Petersburg, Fla., who was in a Sylva pharmacy recently shopping for allergy medicine. She was surprised to discover her allergies in “high gear” in the supposed pristine mountains of Western North Carolina.
“I can’t breathe,” said McDonald, who was camping in a local RV park. “I’m totally stuffed up.”
She’s got plenty of company. But what is simply a discomfort for people such as McDonald presents potential real dangers for others. Ozone levels have prompted a series of warnings from air monitoring agencies, and it’s early yet in the season.
Air quality officials earlier this month warned of “Code Orange” conditions at elevations higher than 4,000 feet, and yellow — moderate — conditions down the mountains some.
Ozone comes from sources such as automobile tailpipes, “baking” in heat and sunlight on hot days.
Exposure can impair lung function, cause respiratory irritation, aggravate asthma symptoms and weaken the immune system, experts say. Not to mention particulates are creating a heavy haze over the aptly named “Smoky” Mountains, though recent rains have helped improve visibility.
Jim Renfro, air quality specialist for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, said although the air-quality situation obviously isn’t terrific, it’s actually an improvement over the 1990s, say, when air quality was even poorer. Clampdowns on emissions have made a difference.
“We are heading in the right direction,” said Renfro, who has been helping to monitor the quality of the air in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since about 1986.
And there will need to be even more improvements, because the bar will be raised again this summer.
Renfro said yet tougher restrictions are coming down the pike. This increases the likelihood of even more bad-air warnings, though ironically, the air quality could actually be improved, he said.
By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer
A Sylva-based environmental organization may be sending its message out over the airwaves.
For 60 days the Federal Communications Commission opened a window to allow organizations across the county to submit an application for a full-powered noncommercial radio license. More than 36,000 organizations applied, which has FCC officials expediting the application process, said Mary Diamond, FCC press aide.
Roughly 45 percent of people (more than 2.9 million) in North Carolina lives in an area with unhealthful short-term levels of particle pollution ....
— The American Lung Association
Last week was Air Quality Awareness Week, and surprisingly, there is some news about air quality. At least one recently released report noted a decrease in smog in many areas of North Carolina.
When Aaron Patterson graduated from Tuscola High this year, little did he know a big chunk of his summer break would be spent, clipboard in hand, sprawled out in the dirt on a 5,000-foot mountain top, sharing long intimate moments with the leaves of a wild coneflower plant.