In a move that is more reflective of the geographical area it serves, the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency has changed its name to Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality Agency (AB Air Quality). The Buncombe County Commissioners and Asheville City Council approved resolutions to update the interlocal agreement respectively on Oct. 19 and Nov. 9, 2021.
The mission of AB Air Quality is to protect and monitor the area’s air quality to safeguard public health and the environment. While air quality has improved significantly in recent years due to federal, state, and local initiatives, air pollution continues to be recognized as an important issue in western North Carolina.
Since 2000, monitors in Buncombe County have shown a 31% reduction in our highest ozone concentrations and a 60% reduction in our average annual particulate matter concentration. Additionally, during this time, visibility on the worst days in the Smoky Mountains has increased from 8 miles to 40 miles.
As this area continues to grow that means increased traffic on our roads and energy usage associated with more homes and commercial buildings. Health effects are being found at lower levels of pollution and as such, there is a need to continue to improve air quality to protect the public health. Additionally, climate change is expected to cause more frequent wildfires and higher ground level ozone concentrations. AB Air Quality will continue to focus on and address environmental justice, equity, and emerging contaminants.
A brief background
In 1947, the City of Asheville established a “Smoke Abatement Program” to address the black smoke that engulfed the city during stagnant weather conditions. The local air quality agency is an extension of that program. After an air pollution study was conducted in Asheville by the US Public Health Service in 1963 as part of a national air sampling surveillance program, Buncombe County, Haywood County, and the City of Asheville joined forces to address air pollution. American Enka and Champion Paper also participated, and air-sampling stations were set up in Hazelwood, Waynesville, Clyde, Canton, Enka, Asheville.
In 1967, a regional air pollution control agency was established in 4 counties: Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson, and Transylvania. In 1970, all counties were required to have air pollution programs and the regulatory framework shifted, at that point Buncombe and Haywood continued to have a local program and the other two counties moved under the larger state program.
In 2000, the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency, now Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality Agency was re-formed through an interlocal agreement between Buncombe County and the City of Asheville. The purpose of this agreement was to establish, administer, and enforce a local air quality program for the City of Asheville and Buncombe County in accordance with the provisions of North Carolina General Statutes Section 143-215.112. This agreement was updated in 2007 and again in 2021.
AB Air Quality offers compliance assistance, education and outreach services, and is available to do presentations on air quality at the request of schools, civic groups, and other community organizations.