For Immediate Release, July 14, 2014

Contact: Jonathan Evans, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 436-9682 x 318

Lawsuit Launched to Protect Air Quality in North Carolina

CHARLOTTE, N.C.— The Center for Biological Diversity submitted a formal notice of intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency today for failing to ensure that North Carolinians are protected from lead and ozone air pollution. The EPA has failed to make sure the state has a plan in place to meet Clean Air Act standards formalized eight years ago for lead and ozone pollution, which pose serious threats to public health and ecosystems.

“From the highest peaks of the Smoky Mountains to the beaches of the Outer Banks, clean air is the primary building block for healthy ecosystems and strong communities,” said Jonathan Evans, toxics and endangered species campaign director at the Center. “The EPA needs to take steps right now to implement the Clean Air Act to save lives and protect the environment in North Carolina.”

North Carolina elected officials have become increasingly hostile to federal clean-air laws. On Dec. 26 the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources under Gov. Pat McCrory sued the EPA to loosen air-quality requirements related to dangerous soot called particulate matter. The state legislature introduced the Regulatory Reform Act (Senate Bill 734), which included a requirement that the state eliminate the majority of its 132 air-quality monitors that help ensure clean-air requirements are being met. 

“It’s shameful that the elected officials of North Carolina are working at the beck and call of polluters to roll back clean-air protections for the state,” said Evans. “Clear skies, healthy families and clean ecosystems shouldn’t be bargained away for the next campaign contribution or Tea Party vote.”

The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to identify and set “National Ambient Air Quality Standards” for pollutants such as lead and ozone, both of which cause harm to people, especially sensitive populations such as children and the elderly, and to ecosystems. In North Carolina alone, more than 860,000 people have illnesses like asthma and pulmonary disease that may be the result of ozone pollution and can be exacerbated by the pollutant. Despite improvements in air quality since the state enacted the Clean Smokestacks Act in 2002, regions such as the Charlotte metropolitan area still violate the minimum air-quality standards for ozone.

Lead, which does not break down in the environment, is an extremely toxic element that threatens human health, especially that of children. It disrupts their development, causing slow growth, development defects and damage to the brain and nervous system. Ecosystems near lead sources experience decreases in biodiversity, ecosystem production, and increases in invasive species. Many scientific studies have also expressed concern about sublethal effects of atmospheric lead on wildlife.

Ground-level ozone leads to public health problems, particularly in children and adults with lung disease. Ozone reduces lung function, increases respiratory problems like asthma, increases visits to emergency rooms, and can lead to premature death. Repeated exposure to ozone during the growing season damages vegetation and ecosystems. Cumulative ozone exposure can lead to reduced tree growth; visibly injured leaves; and increased susceptibility to disease, damage from insects and harsh weather. Sensitive plant species that are at risk from ozone exposure include trees such as black cherry, quaking aspen, ponderosa pine and cottonwood.

For more on the dangers of lead click here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and supporters dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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