Air pollution have been an issue for the Triad for a number of years. The EPA has set National Ambient Air Quality Standards for six common air pollutants, as required by the Clean Air Act. The six pollutants are: Ozone, Particulate Matter, Carbon Monoxide, Nitrogen Oxides, Sulfur Dioxide, and Lead. These pollutants can cause health and environmental harm and property damage. Of the six, ground level ozone and particulate matter are of the greatest concern to human health.
Ozone is created by chemical reactions between nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. Sources of NOx and VOC include motor vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents as well as natural sources. The size of the particles is directly linked to their potential risk to human health. The EPA is most concerned with particles 10 micrometers or smaller in size as these particles generally are able to enter the lungs.
Forsyth County and the surrounding Triad regions were recommended to the EPA for designation as a nonattainment area for the 8-hr ozone standard in 2002. Ozone is evaluated on a three year period to determine compliance with the set standards. During the 2000-2002 period, Forsyth County and other counties in the region exceeded the set standard of .08 ppm. As a result, 11 counties and 28 municipalities in the Triad, in partnership with the State and EPA, created the Triad Early Action Compact in December 2002. This Compact represented a commitment by the local municipalities to adopt air quality strategies to achieve cleaner air sooner than the federal Clean Air Act would otherwise require. In return, the EPA agreed to defer the effective date of nonattainment designation until April 15, 2008 contingent on all terms and conditions of the Compact being met. However, in March 2008, the EPA reduced the set standard for 8-hr ozone levels from .08 ppm to .075 ppm. In March 2009, the State recommended to the EPA that the Triad area (including Forsyth County) be designated as a nonattainment area under the new standard.
There are both economic and potential transportation impacts to receiving a nonattainment designation. Nonattainment areas must live within an “ozone budget” and review emissions for all proposed new industry. In worst case scenarios, federal transportation funds can be withheld for nonattainment areas.
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