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$1.1 million for air quality improvements in Mecklenburg County

Mecklenburg County is receiving a $1.1 million federal stimulus infusion that it hopes will help mitigate poor air quality in the region. WFAE's Simone Orendain has more: Mecklenburg County has suffered from poor air quality for numerous years and fallen in the "non-attainment" category by federal standards. The grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is supposed to go toward replacing or retrofitting heavy duty diesel construction equipment. The Mecklenburg County Air Quality office says this type of equipment causes 25 percent of nitrogen oxide pollution in the region. Nitrogen oxide (or nox) is a key precursor of ozone pollution. Air Quality Director Don Willard says it's now up to contractors who run bulldozers, excavators and other large equipment to do their part. "We're in a situation where any permanent nox reductions are of benefit and all the easy ones are gone. So we expect this to help a good bit," says Willard. According to the county's 2008 State of the Environment report ozone measured 93 parts per billion. Federal standards at the time required 84 parts per billion or less. The standard is now tougher at 75 parts per billion. The region's air quality will determine how much federal highway funding it can receive.