By: Dean Hybl
The American Lung Association (ALA) has released their “State of the Air” report for 2017 and while there is always room for continued improvement, the “grades” for the Upstate region are definitely looking good.
It was just five years ago that the ALA ratings gave Spartanburg an “F” grade for Ozone emission levels and the rest of the region a “C” grade. Fast-forward to the 2017 report and it is a very different story. Abbeville, Anderson, Oconee and Pickens counties all received a grade of “A” by ALA and Greenville, Spartanburg and Cherokee received a “B” rating (ALA did not give individual county ratings for Laurens, Greenwood or Union).
These ratings are very consistent with the ozone monitor numbers that are recorded by the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Controls (DHEC) as part of the EPA Clean Air Act monitoring. The emission numbers in the Upstate have seen steady improvement over the last 15 years and now, for the first time ever, the Upstate region is well within the current EPA attainment standards.
So, what has changed over the last five years or for that matter the last 15 years?
There are many factors that can be identified as contributing to the consistent improvements in air quality in the Upstate. Some, such as summer weather and air flow are out of our control. However, many other things that are to some extent within the control of our local communities and businesses have helped make the air cleaner and safer for Upstate residents.
Dating back to the early 2000s when the region first had the potential of being out of attainment with the EPA standards, it was a partnership of local governments and businesses that created an “Early Action Compact” that helped keep the region within compliance. The elimination of coal fired electric plants in the region and emission reduction efforts by other industries also played an important role.
In recent years, communities and businesses within the Upstate have continued to implement voluntary actions, many related to vehicles and mobile emission sources, that have helped reduce emissions and make the air cleaner for Upstate residents. Campaigns like the “Clean Air Upstate” campaign that started in 2012 also have helped grow awareness across the region of what can be done by individuals, businesses & institutions and local governments to make our air cleaner and safer. Individual actions with a compounding cumulative impact.
One important word to recognize in that phrase is “voluntary.” As folks at the national level debate the regulatory role of government in issues related to natural resources, the Upstate has shown that voluntary efforts and a community commitment to improving health of local residents can help make a difference at a time when the Upstate is also seeing consistently high levels of manufacturing investment and job growth.
It can certainly be debated whether the Upstate would have started down this path towards clean air 15 years ago had there not been a threat of regulations that would have increased costs for manufacturers and local governments in the region. What isn’t debatable is that as the momentum has grown and improvements have been seen, many local businesses and communities have continued to find new ways to make the air safer for all Upstate residents.
Now, just because the Upstate has seen amazing improvement in air quality doesn’t mean the job is over. ALA estimates that there are nearly 25,000 cases of Pediatric Asthma and 80,000 cases of Adult Asthma within our region. These numbers are slightly below those from past years, but still are significant.
Continuing to encourage voluntary opportunities to reduce emissions as individuals, local businesses, governments and a region is vital to this important issue that impacts both the public health of our residents and the economic vitality of our region.
For ideas on how you, your business or local government can continue to reduce air pollution and make air quality in the Upstate even better, please check out www.CleanAirUpstate.org.