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Less soot, more ozone: Charlotte air quality is worst in the Southeast
Historic West End most exposed to pollutants
Published Tuesday, May 4, 2021
by Herbert L. White

Charlotte has North Carolina’s dirtiest air, and it’s getting worse.

The American Lung Association’s annual “State of the Air” report from the revealed that Charlotte’s ozone pollution is now the worst in the Southeast.

The air quality report tracks and grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of particle pollution, or soot, and ozone, commonly referred to as smog, over a three-year period. The latest report covers 2017-2019.

“The levels of ozone seen in Charlotte can harm the health of all of our residents, but place our children, older adults and people living with lung disease particularly at risk,” said Christine Hart, manager of the Healthy Air Campaign at the Lung Association. “Fortunately, the area was ranked as one of the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution, which means that there were no unhealthy days for this common pollutant.”

Charlotte had more unhealthy days of high ozone compared to the 2020 survey with a weighted average of six days to earn an F grade, which was worse than the weighted average of 4.7 days in last year’s report. The area is ranked the 34th most polluted for ozone pollution, which is dirtier than last year’s ranking of 52nd.

The report ranked Charlotte’s year-round particle pollution levels 61st worst for year-round particle pollution compared to 64th the previous year. The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. Charlotte was ranked as one of the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution, which means that there were no unhealthy air quality days for soot for an A grade.

The report also shows that nationally, people of color were 61% more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air than their white peers, and three times more likely to live in a county that failed all three air quality grades. The disparity is prevalent in Charlotte’s Historic West End, which is made up of predominantly Black neighborhoods.

According to a report by the Historic West End AirKeepers and Clean Air Carolina, those communities were historically developed near the major railroad line and industrial area, and eventually where the three major highways were rerouted. As a result, this area sees significantly more ozone pollution and particle pollution.

The “State of the Air” report found that more than 4 in 10 Americans (135 million) live with polluted air. In Charlotte, ozone pollution posed the greatest risk, including for people who are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, such as older adults, children and people with lung disease. The report also finds that climate change made air quality worse and harder to clean up.

The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: average annual levels and short-term spikes. Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and cardiovascular damage and are linked to developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.

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