All air quality monitors in North Carolina now comply with the new, more stringent federal standard for sulfur dioxide, or SO2.
That announcement came from North Carolina’s Division of Air Quality Tuesday afternoon and it means that New Hanover County, which has been on the non-attainment list for two years, is now in compliance with federal air quality standards.
The Environmental Protection Agency adopted stricter standards for the toxic gas two years ago because it’s a threat to public health. It’s harmful to the respiratory system. And it’s particularly dangerous for those with asthma or other breathing problems.
According to a spokesman with the state’s Division of Air Quality, sulfur dioxide can also damage buildings, trees, and other vegetation.
The new benchmarks for air quality permits have caused three big producers to make major changes. Invista, which has a Wilmington fiber and polymer plant, recently increased the height of its smokestacks. The company is now also using low-sulfur fuel in its boiler and in other equipment.
Southern States Chemical, a sulfuric acid supplier, closed an old plant on the Cape Fear River two years ago and gave up its air permit almost a year later.
Progress Energy’s Sutton power plant is the largest producer of SO2 in the area. But it’s converting that facility to natural gas near the end of this year. And that change will largely eliminate the company’s sulfur dioxide emissions in New Hanover County.