Improving Air Quality in North Mecklenburg Communities

PRESS RELEASE: CleanAIRE NC Awarded Grant to Improve Air Quality in North Mecklenburg Communities

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded CleanAIRE NC funding to expand community air monitoring across four underserved communities in north Mecklenburg County. The project targets longstanding health and environmental injustices caused by air pollution.

CleanAIRE NC will work with community partners to distribute robust systems that capture local air quality data. The grant also funds the development of capacity-building resources community members can use to limit their pollution exposure, demonstrate inequitable pollution burdens, and advocate for policy change. 

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The grant is among the $128 million recently awarded through the EPA’s Environmental Justice Collaborative Problem Solving grant program to support 186 environmental justice projects in communities nationwide. 

“We are thrilled to collaborate with environmentally impacted communities on such important work, and being entrusted by the EPA to lead this work is extremely rewarding,” said Jeffrey Robbins, Executive Director of CleanAIRE NC. “This work will bolster community-led efforts to reign in air pollution and improve public health in one of North Carolina’s largest counties.”

All four target communities are lower-income communities of color located in Mecklenburg’s Tri-Municipality region: Huntington Green (in the town of Huntersville, NC); Pottstown (Huntersville, NC); Smithville (Cornelius, NC); and West Davidson (Davidson, NC). These areas experience higher pollution exposures than the more affluent neighborhoods surrounding them, resulting in vastly different experiences and health outcomes. 

“My community sits in front of a commercial dumping site where up to 150 diesel trucks travel daily, polluting our air,” said Rachel Zwipf, Vice Chair of the Pottstown Heritage Group. “As a mother with an asthmatic son, I am highly concerned about air quality. Monitoring air not only helps safeguard our health and well-being—it also plays a crucial role in advocating for more equitable policies.”

The grant enables CleanAIRE NC to adopt new technologies and expand the list of criteria air pollutants they measure. Community residents will use sensors to collect, analyze, and publicly report data on several major pollutants that can drive higher mortality rates. Residents will also participate in CleanAIRE NC’s AirKeeper Academy, a three-part education and advocacy training that empowers communities to protect themselves from air pollution, strengthen their advocacy skills, and discover innovative mapping tools. 

“This project will improve Latino and historically Black communities’ understanding of their exposure to poor air quality and heat,” said Steve Justus, a Healthcare Advocate for the North Mecklenburg Economic Mobility Coalition. “With clusters of air monitors in our neighborhoods, we’ll be prepared with real-time data to adapt to these challenges and push for changes to clean up the air we breathe.”

CleanAIRE NC is also developing an AirKeeper Dashboard to integrate community-collected air quality data with relevant geographic data, such as proximity to pollution sources or the number of schools within the vicinity of an air sensor. This gives communities a powerful new tool to holistically understand and communicate their environmental realities.

Additional project components include connecting community members with local health workers and encouraging the Mecklenburg County Health Department to include environmental justice parameters in its 2027 Community Health Assessment.

CleanAIRE NC is working closely with several community-based organizations to develop projects and engage with community members, such as Letha’s 1Stop Shop, the Pottstown Heritage Group, the Smithville Community Coalition, and Caterpillar Ministries. Other key partners include the North Mecklenburg Economic Mobility Collaborative, Atrium Health, Lake Norman Community Health Clinic, North Carolina State University, Mecklenburg County Health Department, Mecklenburg County Air Quality, and the Town of Davidson.

“I’m excited by the opportunity to collaborate with CleanAIRE NC to raise awareness about air quality solutions,” said Letha Smith, founder of Letha’s 1Stop Shop community organization.

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CleanAIRE NC is a statewide nonprofit organization advocating for the health of all North Carolinians by pursuing equitable and collaborative solutions that address climate change and air pollution. www.CleanAIREnc.org