Air quality may help county business

Catawba County’s economic and business climate is getting a breath of fresh air — literally.

For the first time in nearly six years, the county will be classified in attainment of Particulate Matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), a designation that underscores an area’s positive air quality.

County and economic officials say the re-classification will open up a plethora of new, potential business opportunities.

“It was a limiting factor that we don’t have to worry about anymore,” said Economic Development Corp. President Scott Millar.

Oftentimes, growing companies that require intensive operations or air permits will look to develop in areas within attainment, Millar said. Now that Catawba County has re-joined that group, it is but another tool to lure in business.

“We are on the other side of the fence now, and we can keep talking it up,” Millar said. “Here is another advantage that we have to use.”   
The United States Environmental Planning Agency (USEPA) will formally re-classify Catawba County as “in attainment” on Dec. 19.

The county will be in attainment of PM 2.5 (fine particle pollution), which refers to tiny particles of droplets in the air that are two and one-half microns or less in width. That amount is about 30 times smaller than the width of a human hair.

The county has been in nonattainment since 2005, and officials say they have worked with public and private businesses to eliminate car exhaust, burning and other contributing factors to nonattainment.

“A lot of it was making people aware that we had an issue, and it was kind of an educational process,” said Catawba County Commissioner Kitty Barnes, who chaired the Unifour Air Quality Committee that worked to reach attainment.

Barnes said much of the problem was caused from through traffic on major thoroughfares like Interstate 40 and U.S. 321. She said the area’s geographical location to the mountains also causes air to get trapped easier.

“We tried to see if there were things we could manage better or change, and we have made truckers more aware of idling, and you will see non-idling signs around the area,” Barnes said.

John Tippett, the director planning, community development and data services at the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, agrees that the reduction of car and truck exhaust has heavily contributed to reaching attainment.

“Each year as we move forward, more and more of the old smoker cars are off the road,” Tippett said. “Depending on the type car, some of those older cars emit 12-15 times the pollution as a newer model does.”
Tippett said the committee has also encouraged residents to mow their lawns during afternoon hours and have established anti-idling programs for school buses.

“There’s not one magic bullet, but a bunch of programs and techniques that people make to help bring down PM pollution and ozone,” he said.
Like Millar, Barnes thinks the new classification will strengthen the area’s magnet for eco-development.

“When you’re in nonattainment, your industries have to go through more of a permitting process,” Barnes said. “This certainly will help us when we try to attract new business and help our existing industries avoid some of the permitting issues that are very costly and time-consuming.”