Toxic chemicals released into the air by North Carolina industries are continuing a decade-long decline, new data from the Environmental Protection Agency shows.
EPA releases its Toxics Release Inventory every year, reflecting data collected earlier.
Industrial pollutants such as ammonia and sulfuric acid, released into the air, water or land, are legal within federal limits. But high doses can cause cancer and other serious health problems for communities near those industries.
TRI figures released this week shows toxic chemicals released into the air were 56 percent lower in 2015 than in 2005 for the U.S.
North Carolina’s air emissions fell even more sharply, dropping 79 percent. Releases into water or to land showed smaller or no differences over the decade. Overall, the state ranks 16th among 56 states and territories for total releases per square mile.
Coal-fired electric power plants accounted for more than 90 percent of the nationwide decline in air emissions of hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and mercury. Those chemicals can damage developing nervous systems, such as in infants, and cause respiratory irritation.
Power plants released fewer of the pollutants because utilities including Duke Energy are switching fuels, from coal to cleaner natural gas. Duke has retired seven of its 14 coal-fired plants in North Carolina. Federal standards require more effective pollution controls on the remaining coal-fired plants.
Virtually all of Mecklenburg County’s toxic releases are into the air, and those emissions dropped 16 percent between 2005 and 2015. The county has no coal-fired power plants; the county’s largest air emissions were from Charlotte Pipe & Foundry Co.