sam's notes

notes on government, sports and popular culture

Thursday, December 23, 2004

I'll briefly weigh in on air quality one more time and, in the process, take another potshot at the N&R. Then, in the spirit of Christmas, I'll cease and desist.

In her letter to the editor, Amy Parsons writes "right now, 4 million North Carolinians live in counties where the air fails to meet standards for human health. That statistic is shocking and frightening, and worse yet, some lawmakers want to make that number grow."

Parsons does not cite where she got those statistics. Nor does she qualify the term "standards for human health." As I posted earlier, the most recent air quality standards released by the EPA were for particulate matter. Three N.C counties were cited for non-attainment: Guilford, Davidson and Catawba. When you combine the population of those counties, then just over 700,000 North Carolinians are, technically speaking, living with substandard air.

She must be referring to ozone levels, more counties exceed the eight-hour ozone level, which is a stricter standard than the 1-hour ozone level, with which the majority counties comply. In fairness, if you're talking about the eight-hour ozone standard, then you are talking about just over 3 million people. But, as Joel Schwartz told me, once you comply with the one-hour standard, then you're already talking about pretty low ozone levels. On top it all was the fact that 2004 was the lowest ozone year in history.

Now, a couple of questions: Why was this letter published? Although letters the editor are opinion pieces by ordinary citizens, what responsibility should they, and the newspaper that publishes them, take for statistics cited in those letters?

OK, this is an absurd example, but it illustrates my point: If I were to write a letter to the editor saying that the war in Iraq was going fine because only 500 American soldiers had died, would that letter be published? Would that figure be challenged by the N&R editors with a tag line?

I just get concerned when I read alarmist statistics in the newspaper. Perhaps my attitude is a bit callous. But I just have trouble believing we have bad air in North Carolina.


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