Metro Charlotte improved to 19th-worst in the United States for ozone pollution in annual rankings the American Lung Association released Wednesday.
The Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury metro area ranked 18th last year and 10th-worst in the previous two years.
This year’s rankings are based on air quality from 2009 through 2011. Despite improvement, the lung association still gives Mecklenburg County an F grade for ozone.
Ozone is an invisible, irritating gas that forms in the atmosphere on hot, sunny days. Although industrial sources such as coal-burning power plants are big contributors to ozone pollution, motor vehicle emissions are the biggest contributor in Mecklenburg County.
Air-quality experts attribute improving air quality to federal laws that cleaned up vehicle emissions and state-level efforts such as North Carolina’s 2002 crackdown on power plants.
“It’s great news that the Charlotte region’s ranking among ozone-polluted cities continues to improve. Unfortunately, we still received an F for the number of poor air quality days we’ve experienced over the last several summers,” said June Blotnick, executive director of Clean Air Carolina, a Charlotte-based advocacy group.
“We need to prioritize energy efficiency, use of transit and other ‘clean commute’ options, and renewable energy to improve our report card and public health.”
High smog levels can trigger asthma attacks, especially in children, and worsen breathing conditions suffered by people of all ages. They also have been linked to premature death.
Mecklenburg has more than 238,000 residents younger than 18; 85,000 people 65 and over; more than 20,000 children with asthma and 44,000 with chronic lung disease, the association says.
Nationwide, nearly four people in 10 live in areas with unhealthy ozone levels, the association says. Los Angeles remains the nation’s most polluted city, according to the group, but it also has improved since the annual rankings began 14 years ago.
Henderson: 704-358-5051 Twitter: @bhender
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