RALEIGH–All of North Carolina meets the new national air quality standard for fine particle pollution, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In an Aug. 19 letter, the EPA notified Gov. Pat McCrory that it intends to officially designate the entire state in December as attaining or meeting the new federal standard for fine particles, or PM 2.5, that it adopted in 2012.
Ozone and particle pollution are the most widespread air quality issues in North Carolina. Although high ozone levels primarily occur in the summer, particle pollution can reach unhealthy levels at any time during the year.
Particle pollution, which consists of small particles and liquid droplets in the air, can be harmful to breathe and contributes to haze and other air quality problems. Fine particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs and absorb into the bloodstream, causing or aggravating heart and lung diseases. Persons most susceptible to particle pollution include those with heart and respiratory conditions, older adults and young children.
The EPA lowered the annual standard from 15.0 micrograms to 12.0 micrograms per cubic meter in December 2012, but the state Division of Air Quality’s air monitoring has not shown any areas exceeding the new standard. The EPA previously had designated Catawba, Davidson and Guildford counties as non-attainment for the old PM 2.5 standard in 2005, but it reclassified the counties as attainment in December 2011.
North Carolina has taken a number of steps to reduce levels of ozone, fine particles and other air pollutants. The General Assembly enacted the Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002, which required power plants to reduce their nitrogen oxide, or NOx, and sulfur dioxide, or SO2, emissions by three-fourths during the following decade. Those emissions reductions have helped improve air quality across the state because NOx and SO2 contribute to a number of air quality problems, including ozone, haze, particle pollution and acid deposition.
The EPA’s letter to McCrory can be found on the state Division of Air Quality’s website at http://www.ncair.org/planning/pm2dot5/EPA_PM25_Resp_08192014.pdf. More information on air quality issues can be found at www.ncair.org.