N.C. DAQ Response to air quality around Canton schools Print
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On Monday, December 8, USA Today published a report on toxic air from industrial sites near schools throughout the United States that named North Canton Elementary and Bethel Christian Academy as having higher levels of toxic air than a school that was shut down in Ohio in 2005 due to air quality issues. On Friday, Dec. 12, the N.C. Division of Air Quality, which is part of the N.C. Dept. of Environmental and Natural Resources, issued a news release in response to the USA Today report: Following is the text of that news release:


RALEIGH – North Carolina has programs in place to control toxic air emissions from industrial facilities that were identified by a news organization as causing potentially unhealthy air quality near some schools across the state, environmental officials said today.

A recent series of articles in USA Today highlighted potential air pollution problems near schools across North Carolina and the United States based on emissions that industries report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  However, the articles failed to describe state and federal efforts aimed at ensuring that the public is not exposed to unhealthy levels of toxic air pollution.

The N.C. Division of Air Quality enforces federal requirements for industries to install state-of-the-art controls – or maximum achievable control technologies (MACTs) – if they emit hazardous air pollutants above certain threshold levels. The division also enforces a separate state air toxics rule, which sets health-based limits for toxic air pollutants that facilities are not supposed to exceed at their property lines.

“We believe the air is relatively safe to breathe at schools and communities near industries because we closely regulate these emissions sources,” said DAQ Director Keith Overcash. “We require industries to analyze their facilities and install controls where needed to make sure that toxic air pollution does not pose health concerns. Students are more likely to breathe unhealthy air from cars and buses idling at schools than from industrial sources.”

The USA Today study used an EPA computer model that ranks areas by their emissions of toxic pollutants from industrial facilities. However, the EPA designed the model as a screening tool to identify areas for further studies, not as a way to measure health risks for citizens.

“The EPA model was never intended to show citizens’ actual health risks from exposure to air pollution,” Overcash said. “It was designed as a starting point for more in-depth analyses of emissions and potential health risks.  North Carolina goes well beyond that in evaluating and controlling toxic emissions from its industries.”

In addition, the EPA model used by USA Today does not include emissions from cars and trucks, which collectively are the largest source of air pollution in many areas. Also, it relies on information that can be incorrect – such as inaccurate emissions reports from sources or data from industries that have shut down since 2005. The Division of Air Quality has a number of programs in place to control industrial air emissions:

  • An air quality monitoring system for key pollutants across the state.
  • Requirements for industries to regularly report their air emissions.
  • An air toxics branch that evaluates risks from such pollutants, responds to fires and other emergencies that release emissions, and conducts site-specific air monitoring.
  • Enforcement of the state air toxics rule, which sets limits for about 100 compounds, 21 of which are not regulated by the federal program. Facilities subject to the toxics rule must conduct modeling and take measures to ensure that they do not exceed these limits.

The division has no authority over zoning, land use or where companies locate their facilities. Local governments are responsible for regulating land use. More information about other air quality issues can be found at the DAQ Web site, www.ncair.org.

Air Toxics: Additional Points

The N.C. Division of Air Quality (DAQ) enforces both federal and state requirements for controlling toxic and hazardous air pollution.  Under federal rules, certain industries must install state-of-the-art controls - or Maximum Achievable Control Technologies (MACTs) - if they emit hazardous air pollutants above specified threshold levels.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets federal MACT standards by industry groups, such as chemical plants, pulp and paper mills, and furniture manufacturers.  MACTs generally specify processes or controls that facilities must use to limit their emissions of hazardous air pollution.


In addition to EPA regulations, North Carolina has a separate air toxics rule that is health-based rather than technology-based.  The state rule sets health-based limits for 97 compounds, 21 of which are not regulated under the federal program.  Facilities subject to the toxics rule must demonstrate that their emissions do not exceed these limits, known as Acceptable Ambient Levels, or AALs.


The first step in the toxics review process is to determine whether a facility’s emissions would exceed certain threshold levels that would trigger a more detailed examination.  If emissions are below threshold levels, then their emissions would not exceed the state’s health-based limits for air toxics.


If emissions are above threshold levels, facilities must conduct detailed computer modeling of their emissions of key pollutants.  The modeling takes into account factors such as emission rates, heights and locations of stacks, weather data and terrain to predict whether concentrations of any air toxic compounds would exceed any state AALs. If models show that emissions would exceed AALs, facilities must install controls or limit production as needed to comply with the limits.


Key industrial sources of air emissions in Haywood and Gaston counties have undergone review by the DAQ to make sure they comply with the federal and state air toxics rules.  These sources include Blue Ridge Paper in Canton as well as Freightliner, Firestone, FMC and Wix Filtration (now Affinia Group) in the Gastonia area. These sources have reviewed some or all of their toxics emissions. At least one facility, RadiciSpandex, has shut down since 2005.

All of these sources have demonstrated compliance with the state toxics rule.  In some cases, their toxic emissions were below threshold levels. Some facilities conducted detailed modeling that demonstrated compliance with AALs. In other cases, facilities agreed to limit their production levels or add control devices to achieve compliance.

In addition to the toxics reviews for industrial facilities, the DAQ monitored the air in Haywood County (Canton) for various toxic air compounds in May 2006.  That monitoring study showed that levels of pollutants were well below the AALs for most compounds that were measured.  The exceptions were formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, methyl mercaptan and hydrogen sulfide -- which were measured at levels moderately higher than the AALs.  More detailed analysis of the data showed that mobile sources (cars and trucks) were the likely sources for some of these compounds rather than industrial facilities in the area.

Official N.C. DAQ news release

For more information about air quality issues related to children, please contact the Haywood County Health Department between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday-Friday at 828-452-6675.