Air Pollution

Everyone needs, clean air to breathe, water to drink, and food to eat.

A healthy environment increases your quality of life and longevity. Many assume the air they breathe is clean and free from toxins since most air pollution in North Carolina are invisible. But while we cannot see these pollutants, breathing them in can seriously endanger your health and prevent you from living your best. To reduce these hazards, we must first understand the source of air pollution in North Carolina. We find our dirty air is linked to energy and industrial facilities, cars and trucks, and construction.

Leading Causes of Air Pollution in NC

Energy and Industrial Facilities

Fossil fuels are commonly burned in power plants and manufacturing facilities across North Carolina. These fuel sources emit heavy amounts of air pollutants. Research proves these toxins are in the air our communities breathe every day.

Cars and Trucks

North Carolina is one of the fastest-growing states in the country, attracting new families every day. This growing population adds more vehicles to our roads. Cars and trucks are among the largest contributors to particle and ozone pollution in our state.


With more people living here, it’s increased the need to build more houses, roads, schools, and other structures. Most construction vehicles and equipment emit diesel exhaust, a highly toxic air pollutant.  While the EPA has adopted new standards to reduce emissions from construction equipment, thousands of pieces of old equipment are still operating throughout North Carolina.

How Air Pollution Impacts Us


Many air pollutant particles are invisible to the human eye

Our lungs can’t cough out these tiny particles, and once in the lungs, they can pass through cell membranes, enter the bloodstream, and even cross the blood-brain barrier. Exposure to particle pollution has been linked to chronic lower respiratory diseases, diabetes, and stroke, three of the five leading causes of death in North Carolina.


Ozone pollutants are especially dangerous to vulnerable populations

Caused by a chemical reaction between air pollutants released by vehicle exhaust, paint, aerosol products, and manufacturing facilities, ground-level ozone is among the most common air pollutants in North Carolina. Breathing ozone pollution irritates our lungs, causing chest pain and coughing, and making it more difficult to fight off respiratory infections.


Diesel contains 40 toxic compounds

Diesel exhaust from trucks, buses, trains, and construction equipment is a major air pollution source. It contains 40 toxic compounds associated with many adverse health outcomes, including asthma, heart and lung disease, cancer, and even premature death. Stroke, heart disease, and respiratory disease are three of the five leading causes of death in North Carolina.

Air Pollution and Environmental Justice

Not everyone is at equal risk to the harm air pollution can cause. Some existing health threats will intensify, and new health threats will emerge. People of color, and people in low-income communities, experience increased rates of adverse health impacts from climate change and air pollution due to a long history of environmental racism and the resulting health disparities. That’s why we work with neighborhoods most at risk to make a lasting change for future generations.


Check out our interactive Story Map to learn how community residents are using citizen science to take on air pollution challenges in Charlotte’s Historic West End!