Archived Outdoors

The right choices for healthier air

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.


Despite these improvements, though, the need for stiffer limits and controls on pollutants — along with a change in the lifestyle that so many Americans take for granted — is as much a reality as it ever was: “North Carolina still has a long way to go to have air that is safe for everyone to breathe. Science clearly shows that air pollution is dangerous — even deadly — at levels we once thought were safe. To really protect North Carolinians from air pollution, we need the EPA to set more protective air quality standards so all of us can have truly clean air,” according to Susan King Cope, vice president of programs and advocacy for the American Lung Association.

According to the American Lung Association’s study results, North Carolinians were subjected to a mixed bag when it came to air quality in 2006: less smog, but more soot. That means more of the particulate matter that comes from the large power plants and factories, pollutants that lead to serious health problems, especially in children and senior citizens.

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But we can’t overlook the good news. The number of days with dangerous ozone levels decreased in many areas of North Carolina last year. That’s good news, whether it’s due to actual reductions in pollution or weather patterns.

The N.C. Division of Air Quality monitors ozone levels across Western North Carolina during ozone season, which officially kicked of May 1 and lasts until Sept. 30. Ozone occurs naturally in the earth’s upper atmosphere, but at ground level it is formed when pollutants from automobiles, power plants and other sources react with sunlight.

This ground-level ozone remains a major health risk for children and adults who are active outdoors. Up to one half of all asthma attacks in North Carolina are attributed to ozone. In addition, air pollution is harmful to plant and animal life and negatively impacts our tourism industry when haze engulfs the mountains.

So as we head into this year’s ozone season, perhaps it’s a good time to remind ourselves of what individuals can do to reduce the pollution they produce. The Land of the Sky Regional Council’s Clean Air Campaign is an effort to bring attention to air quality issues in Western North Carolina. Here are some suggestions from its staff:

• Drive less by combining trips, carpooling, walking, and getting your boss to allow telecommuting.

• If you drive, limit idling, keep your car tuned up, and drive the speed limit.

• If you’re shopping for a new car, educate yourself about hybrids and alternative fuel vehicles.

• Do a home energy audit, and better insulate your home and workplace.

• Switch to compact fluorescent lights. They cost more initially but their long term cost is better and they don’t need to be changed as often. They burn a fraction of the electricity of regular bulbs.

• Install water-saving fixtures in your home and cut off the shower while soaping up.

• Plant trees and vegetation to help filter air pollution.

More and more, people are paying attention to ways they can reduce the air pollution they produce. We can impose more regulations and rules on power plants and factories, but making the right choices as individuals is the best place to begin.

(To learn more about Land of the Sky’s Clean Air Campaign, visit

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