Improving air quality in the Upstate is an environmental and economic priority

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Downtown Greenville. Will Crooks/Upstate Business Journal

By Dean Hybl, executive director, Ten at the Top

Imagine a scenario where for significant parts of the year your family was unable to spend extended time outside enjoying parks, lakes, and mountains like those we are blessed with here in the Upstate because the air was unsafe to breathe.

Sound like something that could never happen here?

Well, the reality is that, prior to the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970, there were many places across the United States where air pollution made it difficult for people to safely spend extended periods outside.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that since 1970, national emissions for the six primary air pollutants have declined by more than 70 percent. The EPA also estimates that because of the Clean Air Act more than 200,000 early deaths have been prevented annually in the United States and that the number of asthmatic episodes, cases of acute bronchitis, and hospitalizations due to breathing problems have been significantly reduced.

Even with all the strides that have been made, air pollutants can still negatively impact public health. A new study conducted by researchers from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis estimated that air pollutants play a role in more than 3.2 million new cases of diabetes annually (150,000 in the United States). The American Lung Association reports that more than 110,000 people in the Upstate are living with some form of asthma, a number that has declined slightly in recent years but still represents about 7.5 percent of Upstate residents.

Because the Upstate has a manufacturing-focused economy, staying within EPA attainment levels is critical not just to the physical health of our residents, but also to our economic well-being. If the Upstate were labeled a nonattainment area for air pollutants, the additional costs to our manufacturers would likely negatively impact their willingness to invest — or reinvest — here.

Thanks in large part to collaborative efforts by local governments, businesses, and community organizations, our region has seen a significant reduction over the past two decades in overall air-pollutant levels.

Once annually at risk of being recognized as a nonattainment area by the EPA and regularly receiving poor grades in the ALA’s annual ratings, the Upstate has seen a positive impact from a combination of primarily voluntary actions to reduce emissions.

When the most recent EPA ozone emission standards were announced in 2015, it marked the first time that the Upstate did not need any mitigation to stay within attainment levels. In addition, the 2018 ALA air quality rankings gave every Upstate county an A or B for ozone emission levels (compared with primarily C and D ratings in 2012).

Another component that has played an important role in reducing our air pollutants has been the continuing evolution of technology. The elimination of coal-fired electric plants in the region, the continued improvements in vehicle tailpipe emissions, and numerous other technology innovations have been critical to the reduction of air pollutants in the Upstate.

Over the past several years, the Upstate Air Quality Advisory Committee, which includes local governments, businesses, and nonprofit organizations, has spearheaded the Clean Air Upstate campaign to help grow awareness of things that can be done to make our air cleaner and safer for everyone.

On Aug. 17, the Air Quality Advisory Committee, Ten at the Top, and presenting sponsor Bon Secours St. Francis Health System will hold a workshop titled “A Cleaner Future: Air Quality, Sustainability and Energy Innovation” from 10 a.m.–2 p.m. at the T.D. Convention Center in Greenville.

This informative and interactive workshop will feature keynote discussions and breakout sessions focused on innovations that are helping improve air quality while in many cases also providing financial benefits for an individual, business, or local government. After an opening session, attendees will choose the breakout sessions that best fit their interests: home, car/travel, or business; each breakout session will be held twice to provide an opportunity to attend the two sessions of greatest interest. The workshop will conclude with lunch and a keynote program.

If you are interested in learning more about how you can help make the air we breathe in the Upstate safer through the use of emerging and innovative technologies, I hope you will join us.

For more details and to register, visit www.tenatthetop.org.

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