Clean Air Initiative - Three-year Plan on Clean Air Set as Example

11/24/03 by Salisbury Post

By Mark Wineka, Salisbury Post, November 24, 2003

The Catawba College Center for the Environment will serve as a catalyst for a three-year “Clean Air Initiative” in Rowan County that officials hope will become a model for the whole region.

“We can set the example and show others how we can do this,” said Dr. John E. Wear Jr., director of the center. “This is going to be an important issue and something we have to deal with.”

The Center for the Environment will partner with the Rowan Sustainable Community Development Commission to focus on strategies to reduce ground-level ozone. The American Lung Association reported in May that Rowan is the 16th worst county in the nation in terms of air quality -- and the worst in North Carolina.

Local officials fear that the whole region’s air quality, if not improved, could ultimately stop federal highway dollars from coming to the area and hurt the county’s ability to expand existing industry and recruit new employers.

Wear said bad air quality also poses increasing health concerns.

“Regardless, we have a major problem,” he added. Wear envisions the initiative as becoming a voice for regional action and a way for Rowan County to control its own destiny as far as air quality goes.

On Thursday, the center invited representatives of the local banking community to a campus luncheon to give an overview of the initiative and ask the bankers to consider monetary contributions. Catawba College President Robert Knott said the center hopes to raise $300,000 over the next three years toward this community outreach effort.

Paul Fisher, head of F&M Bank, said the people in the luncheon room Thursday might represent the start of something that eventually could have an impact throughout the country.

“Somebody has to stand up and say enough’s enough,” Fisher said. “... If it’s not going to start here, it’s going to have to start somewhere. I’d like to see it start here.”

The center is offering different levels of giving for corporate donors and promises that the contributors receive credit whenever chances arise, such as through news releases, at presentations and during conferences. A big emphasis of the initiative will be community education, using a speaker series and video, for example.

The giving levels include $50,000 for a benefactor; $25,000, patrons; $10,000, sponsors; and $5,000, contributors.

The emphasis in Rowan County will be on things such as smart growth planning, alternative transportation and fuels, forest land preservation and individual and business conservation.

Wear says the clean-air initiative has the support of Rowan County and Salisbury city officials, but it will need additional funding help from the private sector.

Knott assured the bankers that the Center for the Environment will not take long-term ownership of the initiative.

Knott said he hopes instead that “good things get going” and take root in the community, in a model that can be easily shared with other counties.

Wear said the American Lung Association estimates that more than 14,000 people in Rowan County are at risk because of existing respiratory illnesses. Children and adults over 65 represent a group of more than 45,000 additional people who are particularly susceptible to poor air quality, Wear said.

The three groups together account for 45 percent of the county’s population.

Ground level ozone causes respiratory problems, aggravates asthma, decreases lung capacity, inflames lung tissue and impairs the immune system.

Wear said he personally became alarmed when he learned that consistent bad air in the region could lead to permanent lung changes in children.

Ground-level ozone forms when nitrogen oxides react with volatile organic compounds (hydrocarbons) in the presence of heat and sunlight.

Hydrocarbons come from sources such as automobiles, service stations, factories and dry-cleaning businesses.

Nitrogen oxides result from power plant emissions, industrial boilers, cars, construction equipment and other devices that burns fuel.

This region’s sunny, warm climate added into this mix of pollutants contributes significantly to the poor air quality.

Wear said the county’s clean air initiative will get into full swing early next year. Among other things, it will establish an advocacy group -- an Air Quality Commission -- and a clean air policy.

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