Soaring temps, dirty air make it hard for some to breathe
If you had a hard time breathing the air around here last week when the temperatures soared into the 90s, it’s going to be even worse in the next few days.
Forecasters say we could see the thermometer hit 101, and the heat-and-humidity combination will make breathing especially difficult for many including the elderly and people with asthma or heart trouble.
OK, it is summer, and it’s supposed to be hotter than blue blazes, right? Sure, but we have another problem around here: air pollution in the Charlotte region – which includes Lincoln County – is rated among the worst in the nation.
And although it’s slowly getting better (the Charlotte area improved from the 10th smoggiest in the nation to No. 18 in a recent American Lung Association report), we still don’t meet national air quality standards and are considered a “non-attainment” area.
It is estimated that in North Carolina, about a third of our air pollution comes from transportation, and
a third from industrial facilities like coal-fired power plants. More than half of the electricity generated in the country comes from coal-fired plants.
North Carolina has 12 major coal plants including two right in our own backyard – Marshall Steam Station on Lake Norman near Terrell, and Riverbend Steam Station on Mountain Island Lake, just south of Denver on Highway 16.
Duke Energy has invested millions of dollars to reduce emissions at its plants including the Marshall Station which was equipped with new technology including something called “scrubbers” that have significantly reduced pollution in our area.
Duke is also retooling its Cliffside Steam Station in Rutherford County, and will close the Riverbend Station and four other coal-fired plants when the Cliffside project is completed in 2015. Riverbend was built in 1929, and is one of the least efficient of Duke’s plants. It only operates on an as-needed basis.
Vehicle Idle Reductions
While Duke has made great strides in recent years to lower emissions, a major cause of air pollution in our area remains the vehicles we drive – and park while our engines are still running.
While no efforts have been made to pass idle reduction rules for passenger vehicles in North Carolina, the state did pass a law in 2010 that prohibits unnecessary idling by heavy-duty vehicles, and school districts statewide including Lincoln County adopted idle reduction policies that prohibit school buses from idling unnecessarily on school grounds or warming up for longer than five minutes.
An effort to develop more public transportation in Lincoln County suffered a major setback with the recession. Subsidized funding for CATS bus service from Denver to Charlotte was halted during the county’s budget crunch several years ago, and it is unlikely that it will be restored anytime in the near future. Only about 100 people a day took advantage of the taxpayer-supported bus service that began in 2005.
Ironically, the county partnered with CATS in providing the service out of fear of the area might lose federal highway funds if it didn’t take significant efforts to reduce air pollution
Then-county commission Chairman Tom Anderson of Denver was a major supporter of the bus service, and urged commissioners to approve the idea to show the county’s good faith in reducing emissions.
Two Areas Removed From Map
In a presentation to county commissioners last week, county staffers Josh Grant told commissioners that two townships – North Brook and Howard’s Creek in west Lincoln – will soon be removed from the non-attainment map because their air quality is not as bad as the rest of the county – and region – because of their rural nature and low traffic.
This could present some opportunities for economic development in those rural areas, he said, because potential businesses and industries would not have as many environmental regulations and requirements to follow as areas in the non-attainment areas.
Also to be removed from the non-attainment boundary is a section of far west Gaston County around Crouse and Cherryville.
Grant told county leaders that the air quality in the region is improving, and the goal is closer to being attained. Air quality has been steadily improving since 2007 – some of that likely due to impacts from the recession.
Grant briefly suggested some ways to improve overall air quality including an idle reduction policy, public education, and a CATS van pooling program.
“It’s a regional problem. . . air knows no boundaries,” Grant said in making his report, which was received with little comment from commissioners.
Want to breathe better? Head out west to the wide open spaces around Cheyenne, Wyoming. Also high on the list of clean-air cities are Santa Fe, New Mexico and Great Falls, Montana.
Not surprisingly, the worst air is also out west. The Los Angeles area consistently rates as one of the smoggiest places in the United States.