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N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Release: Immediate
Date: July 15, 2003
Contact: Tom Mather (919) 715-7408
Distribution: Statewide


RALEIGH - In response to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requirement, the state of North Carolina today recommended that 11 counties and parts of 24 others be designated by the federal government as not meeting air pollution control standards for ozone.

The state's recommended boundary lines (map) are designed to provide for the most effective means of improving air quality, protecting public health and ensuring continued economic growth in North Carolina.

The EPA uses the designation of so-called non-attainment areas as a key step in the development of strategies for reducing ground-level ozone pollution, which is North Carolina's most widespread air quality problem. EPA set July 15 as the deadline for states to recommend which areas in their states should be designated in non-attainment under a new, more stringent, federal ozone standard. The EPA is expected to make a final decision on the designations by April 15, 2004.

North Carolina has taken substantial steps to control ozone and other key air quality problems in recent years. In 2002, Gov. Mike Easley signed the Clean Smokestacks Act, which requires coal-fired power plants to reduce their nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide emissions by about three-fourths over the next five to 10 years. Between 1999 and 2001, the legislature passed bills that enhance and expand the auto emissions testing program from nine to 48 counties by 2006.

"Too many of our citizens are exposed to high ozone levels in the summer months, and we have been working to resolve this problem," Bill Ross (letter to EPA), secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said. "This federal process identifies those areas with remaining problems. These non-attainment designations will help us focus attention, develop plans and get down to action on cleaner air."

Non-attainment areas are regions that do not meet federal air quality standards for pollutants such as ozone or areas that significantly contribute to such air quality violations. The EPA sets non-attainment boundaries based on recommendations from the states, and the designations can have important implications for air pollution control and public health protection as well as for growth and development.

The key factor in North Carolina's recommendations on non-attainment boundaries was air quality monitoring data from across the state. Monitoring by the state Division of Air Quality shows that ozone levels exceed the 8-hour ozone standard in parts of North Carolina during the warmer months. The DAQ evaluated data on air monitoring, motor vehicle use, population density, air quality modeling and other factors in helping to develop the recommendations.

The recommendations also took into account comments received at a series of public meetings around the state in May as well as input from staff in the departments of Commerce, Transportation, and Environment and Natural Resources.

Counties that were recommended for non-attainment in their entirety include: Alamance, Buncombe, Cumberland, Davidson, Durham, Forsyth, Gaston, Guilford, Mecklenburg, Orange and Wake. Partial county designations were recommended for: Alexander, Burke, Cabarrus, Caldwell, Caswell, Catawba, Chatham, Davie, Edgecombe, Franklin, Granville, Haywood, Iredell, Jackson, Johnston, Lincoln, McDowell, Person, Randolph, Rockingham, Rowan, Swain, Union and Yancey.

Ozone, the main component in urban smog, is unhealthy to breathe and can damage trees and crops. Parts of North Carolina are affected by elevated ozone during the warmer months, with levels exceeding the standard in 24 of the 33 counties where the DAQ operates monitors.

Non-attainment areas will be the focus of air quality plans for controlling ozone. These plans would include specific proposals for curbing ozone, such as measures to reduce emissions from cars, trucks, industries and power plants. The designations also give EPA the authority to review proposed highway projects and long-range transportation plans.

Ozone is formed when nitrogen oxides react with hydrocarbons in the air on hot, sunny days with little wind. The main sources of the pollutants that cause ozone are cars and trucks, coal-fired power plants and other industry.

For more information about the recommended non-attainment designations, ozone and other air issues, visit the DAQ web site at www.ncair.org.


N.C. Division of Air Quality
B. Keith Overcash, Director
1641 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1641
Tom Mather, Public Information Officer
(919)715-7408, FAX (919)715-7175

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Last Modified: Tue July 15 17:21:17 2003
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