Air pollution is hard on kids. Why Charlotte’s air is growing healthier for them.

Charlotte’s skyline is clear more often than it was a decade ago, when air pollutants obscured views.
Charlotte’s skyline is clear more often than it was a decade ago, when air pollutants obscured views. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

The Charlotte area’s air is growing healthier, according to annual rankings Wednesday by the American Lung Association.

North Carolina is among states in the Southeast showing improvement. The Lung Association attributes that progress to the federal Clean Air Act, which has limited pollution from coal-fired power plants and diesel engines.

Federal standards are only part of the reason North Carolina’s air has improved in recent years. The state’s 2002 Clean Smokestacks Act, which limited pollution from coal-fired power plants, sharply reduced ozone.

The Charlotte-Concord metropolitan area had the fewest high-ozone, or smoggy, days reported since the report’s beginning 18 years ago, the Lung Association said. The metro area was also listed as one of the nation’s cleanest cities in short-term spikes of particle pollution, often called soot.

The report covers data collected by states and local governments from 2013 through 2015. Charlotte, for years a regular among the Lung Association’s rankings of smoggiest cities, is absent from this year’s lists for ozone and particle pollution.

North Carolina’s long-range mountain views have grown sharper in recent years due to crackdowns on power plant pollution.

Twenty-five percent fewer people now live where the air quality hit unhealthy levels in 2013-2015 than in last year’s report, said Deborah Bryan of Mothers & Others for Clean Air, a program of the Lung Association in the Southeast.

“The air is cleaner, but not clean enough to protect people from increased risks of premature death, asthma attacks and lung cancer that research shows comes from breathing these pollutants,” Bryan said in a statement.

Climate change will make it harder to make further progress in air quality, experts say. Ozone forms in hot, still weather, and temperatures are warming across the globe.

Children are at special risk from air pollution because their lungs are still growing, health experts say. Kids inhale more air per pound of body weight than adults and are more likely to be active outdoors.

Bruce Henderson: 704-358-5051, @bhender