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Report gives Mecklenburg an 'F' on air quality, but it's improving

Trucks and cars are the main source of pollutants that affect the Charlotte region's air quality.
David Boraks
Trucks and cars are the main source of pollutants that affect the Charlotte region's air quality.

Mecklenburg County got an "F" on an annual national report card of air quality released Wednesday. But there's actually a positive side to the story.

The American Lung Association's State of the Air report looks at two air quality measures — ozone and particle pollution. High levels of these can harm children or people with health problems such as heart disease, asthma or other lung diseases.

Mecklenburg County earned an "F" with an average of 3.7 annual high-ozone days over the past three years. The county earned a "C" for an average of one day a year of high particle pollution.

But that's actually the fewest unhealthy days ever recorded in this report. And the county has met federal air-quality standards annually since 2015, said Mecklenburg County's Megan Green. She likes to look at the area's growing number of healthy air days.

"The number of green days here in Mecklenburg County has doubled since 2006. And so I think that helps illustrate the improvements we've seen here locally," Green said.

Ozone and particle pollution are mainly caused due to trucks and cars. While that's a problem here, it's a bigger problem out West. Nationwide, all of the report's top 25 most polluted counties nationwide that also got "Fs" for ozone are in the West. Many average 20 or more annual high-ozone days, five times the number in Mecklenburg.

Meanwhile, other parts of North Carolina made the association's "Cleanest Places to Live" list, including the Asheville, Greenville and Wilmington areas.

While unhealthy emissions have fallen sharply since the federal Clean Air Act passed in 1970, the lung association estimates that more than 120 million people still live in counties with unhealthy ozone or particle pollution levels.

Read the report at https://www.lung.org/research/sota.

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David Boraks previously covered climate change and the environment for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.