Press Release | December 1, 2015

Exempting Toxic Air Polluters Raises Cumulative Health and Cancer Risks for NC Families

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s proposal to  exempt 1,200 emitters of dangerous pollutants from limits and reporting requirements across the state ignores the local and cumulative impacts—including higher cancer risk—from more toxic pollution in the air breathed by North Carolina’s families, according to comments filed with DEQ’s Division of Air Quality by the Southern Environmental Law Center on behalf of Clean Air Carolina and Medical Advocates for Healthy Air.

“Instead of protecting the people of North Carolina, DEQ is proposing to increase the risks of cancer and serious illness to children, families, and anyone who breathes in North Carolina for the convenience of polluters,” said Myra Blake, attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The state administration’s proposed changes to existing air quality standards would exempt about 1,200 facilities that emit toxic and pervasive air pollutants from having to comply with the state air quality permitting process. Another 240 facilities would become eligible to register with the Division of Air Quality, rather than having to obtain a permit for their pollution.

Under the state government’s proposal, facilities would be exempt from permitting if their annual pollution—including mercury, arsenic, hexavalent chromium, fine particles, and ozone precursors, to name a few–into the air is up to 10 tons total and up to 5 tons per pollutant. Facilities would also become eligible for registration rather than permits if they are not exempt but have total emissions less than 25 tons per year for such pollutants, including hazardous and toxic pollutants.

All of the facilities that would be exempted as a result of this proposal have the potential to emit pollution at levels above the exemption thresholds that DEQ has set out, if they do not operate their pollution controls properly.  Once these polluters are exempt from permit requirements, they could reduce or cease operating their pollution controls and increase toxic pollution back above the threshold without public knowledge. 

One result of these exemptions is that the people of North Carolina would no longer have access to information about the air pollution in their communities that impacts their health and that of their families. More than 50 percent of these polluters are within one mile of a school or hospital.

Based on available DAQ data for 932 of these facilities in 2013, about 648 North Carolina schools that span kindergarten through high school are less than one mile from at least one of these air pollution sources.

About 54 of 139 medical hospitals are less than one mile from at least one of these air pollution sources. Some of these hospitals are within a half mile of these to-be-exempted finishing plants, lumber mills, smelting plants, and poultry processing plants.

The comments and a map are available at


About the Southern Environmental Law Center:

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC's team of nearly 60 legal and policy experts represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.

Press Contacts

Kathleen Sullivan

Senior Communications Manager (NC)

Phone: 919-945-7106
Email: [email protected]