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NC Public Art “Lights Up” Invisible Air Pollution

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The exhibit "Particle Falls" will be displayed Feb. 28-March 28 in Charlotte. (Clean Air Carolina)
The exhibit "Particle Falls" will be displayed Feb. 28-March 28 in Charlotte. (Clean Air Carolina)
 By Nadia Ramlagan, Public News Service - NC - Producer, Contact
February 27, 2020

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - As the sun sets in downtown Charlotte tomorrow, an art exhibit projected onto University of North Carolina-Charlotte's Center City building will show residents orange and yellow dots sparkling over a falling blue light.

The more particle pollution present, the more viewers will see bursts of orange and yellow. Artist Andrea Polli says her light display, called "Particle Falls," is designed to visually represent local air quality.

"'Particle Falls' is a large-scale projection of a computer-generated waterfall, that in real-time as particulate pollution is detected, it turns into a fireball, so it's a way for people to see what their pollution level is at any time," says Polli.

Residents will be able to see 'Particle Falls' from many locations in Charlotte beginning at sunset each evening until March 28. The exhibit has been displayed in several cities across the U.S. and world, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Jose and Paris.

Polli says the exhibit can show in real time how much fine particulate matter - tiny particles that can easily lodge in the lungs. She says the exhibit can be a powerful way for viewers to make the connection between their families' health and the surrounding environment, including one mother in Pittsburgh.

"She got really emotional," says Polli. "And she said, 'This is so wonderful for me. My child goes to public school and I'm very concerned about the air quality. He's getting sick all the time, he's getting close to having asthma, and this really validates what I know is happening but I didn't have any evidence of it.'"

June Blotnick, executive director of Clean Air Carolina - the group sponsoring the exhibit - says Charlotte is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and more people equals traffic congestion and increased construction, both heavy contributors to air pollution.

"I think the general public will be surprised, because most people really don't think about air pollution unless they can see it," says Blotnick. "When they view the exhibit and understand that what they are seeing is really invisible pollution that they are breathing in real time."

Blotnick says improving use of public transit and electric or hybrid vehicles, and adopting cleaner construction standards are all ways city leaders could help clean the air.

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