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Knowing Your Air: Learn about Air Quality in Your Area

One of the biggest influences on your health is all around you but you can’t see it. Clean air is essential for us to live and thrive; it is critical for good health. For over 50 years, the Clean Air Act has played a major role in cutting pollution and improving air quality.

Air Quality Awareness Week encourages you to learn how air pollution is a major environmental threat to health and what you can do to keep yourself, your loved ones, and your community healthy.

This year’s theme, “Knowing Your Air,” promotes understanding the Air Quality Index and learning about the air in your specific area and what associated health effects might be a concern for your community. All this knowledge can help you make decisions such as choosing the best time for children to play outside or reducing exposure by rescheduling an outdoor activity with elderly family members for a time when air quality is expected to be better.

This year, County residents can potentially see more air quality alerts due to changing health standards from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Particle or soot pollution is one of the most dangerous forms of air pollution, and an extensive body of science links it to a range of serious and sometimes deadly illnesses. The EPA also made final revisions to the Air Quality Index and monitoring requirements. 

“That means that we can anticipate more code yellow air quality days in Buncombe County. For example, in 2022 we had a total of 11 yellow air quality days. With the proposed changes to AQI, we would have had 72 yellow air quality days, an increase of 61 days,” says Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality Agency Director Ashley Featherstone. “This does not necessarily mean air quality is worse, but the standard has become stricter because the latest available scientific data shows health effects at lower levels, and the standard is meant to be protective of public health, with an adequate margin of safety.”

The good news is that Buncombe County is currently meeting the new standard.  Fine particle levels have decreased 48% since 2000. Outdoor visibility has improved since 2000, with visibility on our haziest days improving by more than 30 miles.

Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality Agency actively works with state and federal partners, businesses, and residents to ensure our air is clean.

Ashley shares some important information regarding air quality, its health impact, and what you can do to help.

How does Buncombe County monitor air quality?
The Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality team operates an ambient air monitoring network in Buncombe County to determine levels of ground-level ozone and fine particles. These are key pollutants of concern here in the southeast. The data we gather is part of the national ambient monitoring program and is used to determine compliance with the national ambient air quality standards for ozone and fine particles.  More details about what fine particles and ozone are can be found on our website.

Having air quality monitors in our community means we have access to high-quality data about air quality, which is especially important during air quality events when we experience higher levels of pollution. Children, the elderly, and people with heart and lung diseases and health conditions like asthma are especially vulnerable to health effects associated with poor air quality.

Why should people take air quality alerts seriously?
Ashley: Local air quality can affect our daily lives. Like the weather, it can change from day to day. EPA developed the Air Quality Index, or AQI, to make information available about the health effects of the five most common air pollutants, and how to avoid those effects. Ground-level ozone and airborne particles are the two pollutants that pose the greatest threat to human health in this country. 

What can residents to do help reduce air pollution?
Ashley: There are many ways!

  • Never burn trash or other man-made materials.
  • Burn dry, seasoned wood to reduce smoke from fire pits or woodstoves.
  • Reduce driving: Telework, carpool, ride your bike, or ride public transit, and bring your lunch to work rather than driving to lunch.
  • Keep vehicles in good working condition and choose more fuel-efficient and lower-emitting technologies.
  • Conserve energy and implement energy efficiency measures at home and at work.
  • Use electric or hand-powered lawn equipment or reduce the use of gasoline-powered lawn equipment.
  • Attend community-wide firework displays instead of having your own fireworks.
  • Opt for propane, gas, or electric grills rather than charcoal or wood.

To view current air quality, burn bans, and learn more about outdoor and indoor air quality you can visit the Asheville-Buncombe Air Quality Agency website.

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Updated May 16, 2024 02:08 PM
Published May 07, 2024 12:00 PM

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