On some hazy summer days when the pollution hovers near the ground, the air tastes like metallic dust. While ozone leaves a bitter taste on your tongue, imagine what it does to your lungs: causing chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and congestion, and worsening bronchitis, emphysema and asthma.
Car exhaust, gasoline vapors and industrial and power plant emissions combine with sunlight, in abundance in the South, to form ozone. And North Carolina's ozone levels—particularly in the Triangle, Triad and Charlotte—routinely exceed federal standards, according to the N.C. Division of Air Quality.
This is the backdrop for the Canary Coalition Relay for Clean Air, a 100-mile march along the Blue Ridge Parkway between Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Asheville. The fifth annual march happens Saturday, Aug. 29, from 6:15 a.m. to 9 p.m.; it is open to bikers, walkers and runners—but obviously not cars.
This year, marchers hope to draw attention to coal-fired power plants, as the N.C. Utilities Commission is scheduling six public hearings throughout the state about Duke Energy's proposed 12.6 percent rate increase. Part of the additional $496 million in revenue generated by the increase would pay for Cliffside, a new coal-fired power plant to be built in Rutherford County.
Several community organizations are marching in the relay, including two based in the Triangle: Raleigh's N.C. Interfaith Power & Light and Durham's North Carolina Waste Awareness and Reduction Network (N.C. WARN).
The Relay for Clean Air is divided into 37 segments. A "Clean Air" banner is passed from one group to the next as the demonstration progresses over the 100-mile route from the Tennessee-North Carolina border at Newfound Gap to downtown Asheville. For more information, a map of the route and a schedule, visit www.canarycoalition.org. To sign up for a segment of the Relay for Clean Air, call 828-631-3447 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. You can check out air quality in the Smokies at the National Park Service's HazeCam: www.nature.nps.gov/air/WebCams/parks/grsmcam/grsmcam.