The ozone season — the period from May through October when ground-level ozone levels rise — is upon us. In years past, ozone levels in WNC have occasionally risen to levels that threatened public health, but the Land-of-Sky Regional Council reports that air quality has improved and is on track for further improvement, thanks to new laws and technologies.
In the course of a three-hour LOS briefing on Monday, April 30, environmental engineer Ashley Featherstone of the WNC Regional Air Quality Agency reported that air quality here has substantially improved in the past year, principally due to the installation of scrubbers at the Skyland Progress Energy power plant. The scrubbers and a selective catalytic-reduction unit have cut annual sulphur-dioxide emissions from 15,545 tons to 2,235 tons while nitrous oxide emissions have been cut from 4,785 to 1,493 tons per year. A second SCR will come on line this month. The Progress Energy plant used to be the biggest local source of air pollution, Featherstone reported, but now, “Most sources are mobile sources.” She encouraged residents to conserve energy, drive less, buy more fuel-efficient vehicles and to participate in the NC Green Power program, all of which would further reduce air pollution.
Regional Supervisor Paul Muller of the NC Division of Air Quality reported that while WNC had a brush with ozone nonattainment around the turn of the century, for the past three years, we are in attainment. He said that both ozone and fine-particle pollution have diminished. Muller’s department is responsible for daily ozone forecasts through the ozone season. “Attainment” is a criterion established by the Environmental Protection Agency, and nonattainment brings mandatory corrective measures into play. Muller also noted, “In our area we don’t have fine-particle forecasting because we have never exceeded the standard.”
LOS Environmental Services Manager Bill Eaker touted the success of programs initiated by his organization and others in reducing air pollution in recent years. He said the LOS Clean Air Campaign (begun in 1998) and the Clean Cities Program (begun in 1995) have contributed significantly to the effort and praised the city of Asheville for its compressed natural gas filling station and Blue Ridge Biofuels for its work setting up biodiesel pumps around the region. Eaker also lauded Asheville, Mission Hospitals, the Municipal Sewerage District, Buncombe County, Warren Wilson College, Progress Energy and A-B Tech for purchase of alternative-fuel and hybrid vehicles.
For daily updates on regional air quality, visit www.wncairquality.org.
— Cecil Bothwell, staff writer