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Problem:  Dirty Air 

The citizens of Charlotte/Mecklenburg are regularly breathing unhealthful air each summer, which threatens the overall quality of life of the community.  The trend for unhealthful ozone levels has been on the rise since 1994. The eight-hour standard has been exceeded as follows: 1997 - 26 days, 1998 - 48 days, 1999 - 34 days, 2000 - 20 days, including one Code Purple day with ozone levels reaching double the health based standard, 2001 - 13 days, and 2002 - 26 days. Multiple, numerous small pollution sources (i.e. small business, mobile and off-road mobile) comprise over 90% of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx ) emissions in Mecklenburg County.

The key growth factors that affect the ozone trend- population and vehicle miles traveled - continue to rise in Mecklenburg County.  Failure to attain the ozone standard will perpetuate unhealthful air, increased health care costs, difficulty in achieving "conformity" and resulting loss in federal transportation funds, industry and citizens becoming disinterested in locating to a region with "dirty air," citizens and industry migrating from Charlotte/Mecklenburg to greener pastures and cleaner air, and small business and individuals regulated more heavily (e.g. Los Angeles, Houston, Atlanta).

Solution: Local Action Keep our air clean
"No single control will solve the 8-hour ozone problem…it will take a combination of aggressive measures at both utility and industrial sources, as well as mobile, area & non-road sources to effectively address the 8-hour standard…" Moreover, it will take a combination of federal, state and local governments working together to clear the air.  The Breathe initiative is the beginning for Charlotte/Mecklenburg to do its part through the formation of a stakeholder group and recommendation and completion of control measures that will quantifiably reduce ozone pre-cursor emissions.

On "unhealthy" air days, citizens of Mecklenburg County have few alternatives to breathing dirty air.

Breathe to Date: Resolutions & Stakeholder Groups
On March 29, 2001, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) adopted a clean air policy and implementation strategy. Clean Air Policy: "Mecklenburg County wishes to achieve and maintain clean healthful air as determined by national, state and local ambient air quality standards for the well being of its citizens and the economic vitality of this community and shall act proactively at the county level to achieve this goal."

Implementation Strategy: The Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners shall appoint a representative stakeholder group charged to: (i) identify and prioritize specific issues relative to ozone levels and precursor emissions specific to Mecklenburg County, (ii) develop a consensus set of principles and emission reduction measures to be considered by the Board and (iii) present recommendations for action on these matters to the Board of Commissioners within 180 days from the date of appointment. On June 4, 2001, the Charlotte City Council adopted a resolution to jointly develop a "Clean Air Policy" with the Mecklenburg County Commission and committed staff of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Planning Commission, Charlotte Department of Transportation, and Charlotte Area Transit System in support of the stakeholder process. All towns have received the Breathe presentation and will be invited to participate in the process.

On June 19, 2001, the BOCC approved organizations and categories for the Breathe Stakeholder Committee representing the general public, environment & health, transportation, business & industry and existing advisory boards.  August/September – BOCC and City Council appointed a chair and 26 stakeholders.

Mobile sources are the primary local sources of Ozone's precursor emissions. 

Our Recommendations
In response to the charge from the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners and Charlotte City Council, the Breathe Stakeholders have undertaken an intensive educational effort and analyzed approximately 60 control strategies to identify feasible programs to pursue in this community to achieve quantifiable reductions in ozone levels.

The Breathe Stakeholders are also recommending initiatives that cannot be quantified as to ozone reductions but are important in educating the community, attempting to influence personal behaviors, and approaching this problem on a regional level.  Our 17 recommendations include:
  • Require Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department to actively enforce the North Carolina smoking vehicle statute and require repairs
  • Replace automobile leaking gas caps
  • Remove older, higher polluting vehicles from the road with an accelerated vehicle retirement or upgrade program
  • Accelerate the replacement or upgrade of non-road diesel fleets with new engine technology being introduced 2001-2008
  • Accelerate the replacement or upgrade of on-road diesel fleets with new engine technology scheduled for introduction in 2004 and 2007
  • Accelerate the replacement or upgrade of on-road gasoline powered fleets with hybrid low-emission vehicles or new engine technology schedules for introduction in 2004
  • Accelerate the replacement or upgrade of gasoline powered equipment such as lawn mowers and generators with types meeting California standards over the next 5 to 10 years
  • Participate in regional efforts to introduce ultra low sulfur fuels in this market ahead of the 2006 availability date
  • Require contractors to achieve emission reductions on governmental construction projects, relative to standard construction practices
  • Develop an energy plan for local governments to reduce energy use and urban summertime atmospheric temperatures; expand this concept to new and modified construction in all sectors
  • Promote ordinances in all local jurisdictions establishing minimum tree preservation and planting standards
  • Support and promote the mass transit plan, which is designed to provide multiple transportation options to the public
  • Establish employer programs to reduce vehicle miles traveled
  • Fund and implement an aggressive program to educate and motivate individuals to take actions to minimize ozone pollution
  • Develop episodic programs to apply during specific ozone events such as code orange or code red days
  • Establish a regional air quality consortium to develop a set of mandates and voluntary initiatives to improve air quality in the region
  • Appoint a task force to develop a proposal for creating dedicated funding sources to pay for air quality programs, premised on using fees rather than property taxes

Local air pollution control measures are a necessary and integral part of a comprehensive strategy, which includes federal and state mandated controls, to ensure Charlotte-Mecklenburg is a healthy, livable community.

Ozone (smog) Free Day
To view the full 25 page Breathe Stakeholder report click here . The report includes a list of air emission control recommendations for achieving year-round healthy air in the Charlotte/Mecklenburg area.  The report is dated April 25, 2002.

The Charlotte skyline on a relatively ozone (smog) free day.

If you have questions on how you can get involved, call Mecklenburg County Air Quality at 704-336-5430 or send an email to Alan Giles

Skyline on a High Ozone (smog) Day


The Charlotte skyline on a high ozone (smog) day.

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