Air Pollution In Our Backyards

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The results of last summer’s Piedmont Carolina air monitoring study were the focus of a presentation at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 19, 2012 at the Center for the Environment facility on the Catawba College campus. The study was a joint venture of Davidson College’s Dr. Cindy Hauser and the Center for the Environment.

Recent research confirms that the ozone levels in your backyard are comparable to those around interstates and businesses.

The Center for the Environment's summer air monitoring program, conducted in partnership with Davidson College, showed ozone levels to be fairly consistent in residential areas of seven Piedmont counties. “We know we have high ozone levels in counties where the North Carolina Division of Air Quality has monitors,” says Dr. John Wear, Center director. “But we wanted to know if the levels are also high in the counties that presently have no monitors.”

The study’s intent was to show what the air quality is like in residents' backyards in Rowan, Cabarrus, Iredell, Davidson, Mecklenburg and Gaston counties in North Carolina and York County in South Carolina.

While ozone levels were constant, Hauser says nitrogen oxide (NOx) levels tended to vary from county to county, demonstrating minimal variations from one week to the next at a specific sampling site.

Hauser says nitrogen oxides are a primary pollutant, a component of vehicle emissions and precursor to ozone formation. "NOx concentrations act as an indicator of pollution levels in an area and are locally specific," she says. "NOx concentrations were measured in this study to compare the presence of emission sources at each of the sites and to explore their impact on local concentrations of ozone."

Rowan, Mecklenburg and Davidson counties averaged about 10 parts per billion (ppb) – based on seven-day averages – while the other four counties averaged 13-to-15 parts per billion (ppb).

"I might have expected Mecklenburg to be higher if the monitor was in downtown Charlotte," Hauser says, "but it wasn't. It was also at a residential site."