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How are we doing? – Clean air a big challenge

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(Editor’s note: The N.C. Progress Board, a group created by state lawmakers to track trends in North Carolina and set goals for the state, issued its first report in December 2001.

(Each week, the Philanthropy Journal will spotlight an issue examined in the report. The goals, targets and analysis below are those of the Progress Board.)

GOAL: In 2020, North Carolina’s air and water will be of the highest quality.

TARGETS: By 2010, 50 percent of ozone season days will be “good” air quality days — and by 2020, 100 percent of ozone season days will be “good” air quality days.

While North Carolina has made progress in reducing four out of six major air pollutants, the state’s air quality consistently ranks among the least healthy in the nation.

Our state had the country’s fifth-highest number of unhealthy air days in 1999. In 2000, the American Lung Association rated Mecklenburg, Wake, and Rowan among the 25 most ozone-polluted counties in the nation.

North Carolina’s ranking as one of the top air-polluting states is due to the emissions of old, coal-fired power plants and an increasing number of vehicles on the roads.

Vehicle use accounts for up to 90 percent of nitrogen oxide emissions in urban areas and almost half the ozone pollution statewide.

In addition, large and small industries such as gas stations and printers, and home-use products such as paints and cleaners all emit pollutants that react to create ozone.

Air pollution also changes soil chemistry and creates an unhealthy environment for plants, reducing agricultural yield.

Finally, ozone is contributing to a dramatic decline in visibility in our national parks and wilderness areas, as documented by the Southern Appalachian Mountain Initiative.

On any given summer day in the mountains, there is a good chance that views may be obscured by man-made pollution, which affects the state’s tourism industry as well as our pleasure.

Analysts value the loss in economic activity in the area around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park alone at more than $200 million each year.

MEASURES: Air quality can be measured by the percentage of ozone season days that meet standards for “good” air quality days.

In 1994, the number of high ozone days in North Carolina totaled 24; by 1998 it shot up to 70 unhealthy days and was accompanied by health advisories.

In 2000 the number of times ozone limits were exceeded dropped in half to 35 days, due to cooler, wet summer days that were more cloudy than sunny.

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