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N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Release: Immediate
Date: Jan. 13, 2012
Contact: Tom Mather
Phone: (919) 707-8447; (919) 218-0441


Public Meetings Set on Boundary Designations for Ozone Non-Attainment Areas

RALEIGH - Citizens can learn about, ask questions and comment on the potential boundaries for ozone non-attainment areas during public meetings scheduled for next Wednesday in the Charlotte metropolitan area.

Non-attainment areas are regions that do not meet federal air quality standards for pollutants such as ozone, and the Charlotte metro area is the only part of North Carolina currently under consideration for designation. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets non-attainment boundaries based on recommendations from the states, and the designations can have important implications for growth and development. Two meetings are scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 18: 1 p.m., Hal Marshall Center, 700 N. Tryon St., Charlotte; and 5:30 p.m., Cornelius Town Hall, 21445 Catawba Avenue, Cornelius.

At the meetings, the N.C. Division of Air Quality (DAQ) is seeking input to help refine North Carolina's recommendations on non-attainment area boundaries for the 8-hour ozone standard, which the EPA has lowered from 0.08 to 0.075 parts per million (ppm) measured over 8 hours. DAQ staff will present information on air monitoring, motor vehicle use, population density, air quality modeling and other factors used in determining non-attainment areas.

The EPA initially adopted the new ozone standard in March 2008, and North Carolina submitted recommendations for non-attainment boundaries in March 2009 based on information available at that time. The EPA later postponed the designation process while it considered whether to strengthen the ozone standard. However, it decided in September 2011 to keep the 2008 standard and restarted the designation process. Meanwhile, air monitoring data showed improvements in ozone levels across the state, leading DAQ to scale back its earlier recommendations to include only the Charlotte metropolitan area.

Ozone, the main component in smog, is unhealthy to breathe and can damage trees and crops. Ozone is formed when nitrogen oxides (NOx) 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. At one time, a number of North Carolina counties exceeded the ozone standard, but levels have declined due to lower emissions of ozone-forming pollutants. Currently, the only monitors exceeding the standard are located in Mecklenburg and Rowan counties.

States must develop air quality plans for reducing ozone in non-attainment areas. These plans include specific proposals for curbing ozone, such as measures to reduce emissions from cars, trucks and industries and power plants. The designations also give the EPA the authority to review proposed highway projects and long-range transportation plans.

In setting boundaries for non-attainment areas, the EPA typically includes all of the counties in the same metropolitan area where violating monitors are located and considers other factors such as commuting patterns, emissions sources and population growth. In the Charlotte area, that could include all or parts Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln, Mecklenburg, Rowan and Union counties.

Based on inputs from the meetings next week, DAQ may recommend excluding rural portions of those counties. States must submit recommended changes to the EPA by Feb. 29, and the agency is expected to announce designations by May 31.

North Carolina has taken substantial steps to reduce ozone and other key air quality problems. In 2002, the legislature passed the Clean Smokestacks Act, which required coal-fired power plants to reduce their NOx and sulfur dioxide emissions by about three-fourths over the following decade. The legislature also passed bills that enhanced and expanded the auto emissions testing program from nine to 48 counties. More information about air issues can be found at: www.ncair.org .

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Diana Kees, Communications Director
Phone (919) 707-8626
1601 Mail Service Center 
Raleigh, NC 27699-1601
diana.kees@ncdenr.gov
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Last Modified: Fri January 13 15:11:25 2012
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