Along with the return of spring blooms and sticky pollen, today marks the start of the 2018 ozone season. State and local environmental agencies will issue daily air quality forecasts for ozone in seven metropolitan areas across North Carolina through Oct. 30.
Ozone forms in the air when nitrogen oxides, or NOx, react with hydrocarbons on warm, sunny days with little wind. Once North Carolina’s most widespread air quality concern and contributor to breathing problems, ozone continues to decline due to steady reductions in emissions from its primary air pollution sources: power plants, industry and motor vehicles.
“Last year we recorded just four days where ozone reached levels that were unhealthy for sensitive groups. This demonstrates how much progress the manufacturing, utility and mobile sectors have made in the last two decades to reduce pollution,” said Mike Abraczinskas, Director of the North Carolina Division of Air Quality. “We have transitioned from a time where ozone alerts were common, to the entire state being in compliance for the federal ozone standard. It’s a tremendous accomplishment.”
While the state has made great strides, the Division of Air Quality urges people who are vulnerable to ozone-related health risks to remain vigilant about ozone alerts. This includes children, those with respiratory problems or heart disease, and even healthy adults who work or exercise outdoors.
Exposure to high ozone levels may cause previously healthy individuals to develop asthma over time. High ozone also causes more damage to trees and crops than all other air pollutants combined.
Daily North Carolina forecasts are available on the Division of Air Quality website, where people also may register for email updates or follow postings via social media. State and local air programs issue forecasts for ozone in the Asheville, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Hickory, Triad, Triangle and Rocky Mount metropolitan areas. The forecast is issued at 3 p.m. every day for the next day.
Air quality forecasts focus on the pollutant likely to reach the highest level on a given day, which could be ozone or particle pollution. The color-coded forecasts show whether air quality is likely to be good (green), moderate (yellow), unhealthy for sensitive groups (orange), unhealthy (red) or very unhealthy (purple). On Code Orange and Red days, the forecasts also suggest steps people can take to protect their health and reduce air pollution.