How a west Charlotte neighborhood is cleaning up its air

CHARLOTTE — While pollution from emissions is a global issue, its impact is felt locally too, especially in historically disenfranchised neighborhoods often closest to major pollution sources like highways and industrial sites.

In Charlotte, CleanAIRE NC mapped the EPA-registered polluting sites and found most of them concentrated on the north and west neighborhoods of the city, near historically Black neighborhoods.

To Ron Ross, who has lived in the Historic West End near the Beatties Ford Road Corridor for more than 30 years, the impact is clear as day.

“We pretty much knew that that was a concern,” he said.

CleanAIRE NC started working with Ross and other neighbors in the Historic West End to collect air quality data in the neighborhood in 2016. They placed three small air quality monitors throughout the neighborhood to quantify the amount of particulate matter or PMs in the air.

PM 2.5 and PM 10 are particle pollutants found in soot. You might remember them from the hazy scenes across the country as a result of the Canadian wildfire smoke.

“It can infiltrate our bodies,” CleanAIRE NC Community Science and Program manager Daisha Wall said. “It’s hard to remove it so when it builds up it causes a whole host of health impacts.”

CleanAire’s data found the Historic West End had more days of high particle pollution than communities on Charlotte’s south side. When the organization presented the findings to Mecklenburg County, the council opted to place a federal air quality monitoring unit in the neighborhood to provide real-time data.

This is great for the community, this is great for clean air, but it doesn’t offset the impacts of air pollution that we see in the community,” Wall said.

The Historic West End Green District formed in collaboration with the CleanAire and the neighborhood to provide some of those solutions, focused on providing more green infrastructure like gardens and trees as well as educational sessions focused on pollution reduction and advocacy.

“Trees obviously help to filter our air,” Wall said. “They bring in bad air breathe out good air.”

This past year, volunteers helped install a garden in the previously blighted median near the Wells Fargo ATMs off Beatties Ford Road.

“Cleaning it up getting rid of the trash, have a display of plants, beautify the community and show that we care about our community,” Ross said. “Some ways that you individually can go about reducing pollution.”

The Green District also advocates for proactive measures, like preventing more industrial sites in the area. Ross is currently working to get his neighbors organized to oppose a measure to upzone part of the community from multi-family residential to light industrial.

“Trying to get the overall community involved and engaged in the process,” he said. “We can have an effect on that. We have had an effect.”

Over the past 30 years county-wide air pollution has reduced 30 percent and the number of good quality air days has been increasing.

Ross hopes that trend continues to help make his community as well as the entire county safer and healthier.

“We all deserve, good quality air,” he said.

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Michelle Alfini

Michelle Alfini, wsoctv.com

Michelle is a climate reporter for Channel 9.