GREENSBORO — These days, you can breathe easier in the Triad.
Air quality is improving partly because, like the rest of the nation, strict emission standards have put the squeeze on the worst pollutants, according to the American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report.
Duke Energy was once a major air polluter. In the Triad, the company has installed expensive scrubbers at its Belews Creek Steam Station to remove dust particles from its smokestacks or converted other plants to natural gas.
The Greensboro-Winston-Salem-High Point area had the fewest days of high-level ozone pollution since the group started producing reports 18 years ago, the Lung Association said.
The Triad was also one of the cleanest cities for short-term particle days — spikes in pollution that can last for hours to several days and can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
In North Carolina, the cleanest cities for ozone air pollution were Greenville-Washington, Hickory-Lenoir, New Bern-Morehead City and Wilmington.
Forsyth, Guilford and Rockingham counties were among the state’s cleanest for short-term particle pollution.
Air quality in Georgia has improved markedly over the past decade, and that improvement is likely to continue in the foreseeable future, according to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division’s top air quality administrator.
Emissions of fine-particle pollution and ozone-forming chemicals have declined dramatically, said EPD Air Protection Branch Chief Karen Hays.
Emissions of ozone-forming sulfur dioxide (SO2) declined from more than 700,000 tons a year in 2005 to less than 100,000 tons in 2015, according to EPD records. In the same 10 years, emissions of nitrous oxide and nitrous dioxide (NOX) have also come down sharply, though not as steeply as SO2.
NOX emissions rose to around 650,000 tons per year in 2007, but by 2014 and 2015 had dipped below 400,000, according to EPD’s monitoring data.
Because of the improvements, EPD has asked federal officials to drop seven metro Atlanta counties from the Atlanta “nonattainment” zone, where ozone levels all too frequently exceeded a federal standard meant to protect human health.
Under the EPD’s October 2016 recommendation, Paulding, Douglas, Coweta, Fayette, Cherokee, Forsyth and Newton counties would be dropped from the Atlanta nonattainment zone.