Air Pollution Improves, but Many NY'ers Live in Counties with Failing Air

State of the Air Report Details County-by-County Air Quality Data

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ALBANY, NY (04/27/2011)(readMedia)-- Editors' Note: Multimedia toolkit including broadcast quality b-roll and photographs are available at Trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at Localized press releases (for each region listed below), which include more detailed information about each county's grades, are available.

The American Lung Association's State of the Air 2011 report finds that over 9 million New Yorkers, nearly half of the state's residents, live in counties where unhealthy air endangers their lives and health. This year, 16 of the 34 counties in New York state with air quality monitors received failing grades, compared with 19 out of 33 counties with monitors in 2010. While significant progress has been made in cleaning up air pollution across the state, the report shows that far too many New Yorkers still remain at risk.

"While State of the Air 2011 is encouraging in that most counties had fewer unhealthy air days, more progress needs to be made in cleaning our air so New Yorkers can breathe easier and enjoy improved lung health," said Sandra Kessler, Interim President and CEO, American Lung Association in New York. "These results show that the Clean Air Act and other clean air laws are working. To ensure all New Yorkers breathe healthy air, it is our job to make sure that Congress doesn't weaken the Clean Air Act and that state government doesn't roll back important clean air regulations."

State of the Air 2011, found at , grades counties based, in part, on the color-coded Air Quality Index developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help alert the public to daily unhealthy air conditions. The 12th annual release of the Lung Association's report uses the most recent EPA data collected from 2007 through 2009 from official monitors for ozone and particle pollution, the two most widespread types of air pollution. Counties are graded for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels. The report also uses EPA's calculations for year-round particle levels. The American Lung Association identified the number of days that each county with at least one air quality monitor experienced air quality designated as orange (unhealthy for sensitive groups), red (unhealthy), or purple (very unhealthy), to determine the grades.

"As a physician, I work every day with patients suffering from asthma and other lung diseases and see firsthand the effects air pollution has on their health," said Irwin Berlin, MD board chair of the American Lung Association in New York and Chief of the Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine Division at Elmhurst Hospital Center. "If we want to achieve better lung health, we must have healthier air."

Ozone, or smog-is the most widespread air pollutant. It is a gas formed most often when sunlight reacts with vapors emitted when motor vehicles, factories, power plants and other sources burn fuel. Breathing in ozone irritates the respiratory tract and causes health problems like asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, chest pain and even premature death.

Particle pollution, called fine particulate matter or PM 2.5, is a deadly cocktail of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols that can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end. The body's natural defenses, coughing and sneezing, fail to keep these microscopic particles from burrowing deep within the lungs, triggering serious problems such as asthma and heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and even early death.

"My daughter has asthma and I've learned to pay close attention to air quality alerts," said Connie Moore of Pittsford. "There have been days, late in the school year, when an ozone/air quality warning has been issued for our area and I have actually kept my daughter home from school because of it. I know that on these days the schools still send kids out for recess and that this would mean she would have a hard time breathing. It's incredibly unfair for children to miss school or miss out on the joys of being a kid because of poor air quality."

There are many ways New Yorkers can help clean the air and protect themselves. Check the news for daily air quality levels and air pollution forecasts for your area. On days with elevated ozone or particle pollution, avoid exercising outdoors. Help reduce pollution by driving less, reducing electricity use, and refraining from burning wood. New Yorkers can also join our Lung Action Network to contact decisionmakers to voice their support for legislation that would make our air cleaner. They can also support efforts to improve air quality by participating in one of the American Lung Association's Fight for Air walks or climbs being held across the state this spring and fall.

"With our right to breathe healthy air being challenged in the halls of Congress and in Albany, we need New Yorkers' help in safeguarding federal and state clean air laws," said Michael Seilback, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications. "Just as we need strong state and local regulations to protect us from pollutants that originate within our borders, we need a strong Clean Air Act to protect us from the pollution that makes its way here from old, dirty coal-fired power plants in the Midwest."

"The State of the Air Report illustrates very clearly that air pollution is not just a downstate problem," said Sandra Kessler, Interim President and CEO. "Whether you live in Amagansett or Amherst, Staten Island or Saratoga, air pollution is an issue that affects you."

Significant findings from the report for New York, by region include:

Long Island

*Nassau County improved its grade for particle pollution from a C to a B. While Suffolk County again had the worst ozone pollution in the state, it had among the least short-term particle pollution.

New York City

* The New York City metropolitan area ranked 17th on the top 25 list of U.S. cities most polluted by ozone and 25th on the top 25 list of U.S. cities most polluted for annual particle pollution. Bronx County was the only county in the state to receive an F for short-term particle pollution. Queens County made significant progress, improving its grades for ozone and short-term particle pollution. New York County earned an F for ozone and received a passing grade for annual particle pollution.

Hudson Valley

* Dutchess, Orange and Putnam counties received F's for ozone pollution, and Dutchess was one of only two counties in the state to experience more unhealthy ozone days than the previous year. Westchester was the dirtiest county in the region for ozone and second dirtiest in the state. Ulster is again the only Hudson Valley county to receive a passing grade for ozone pollution and is among the least polluted counties for ozone in the state. Rockland County is included in the State of the Air Report for the first year; however, there was insufficient data to give the county a grade.

Capital Region

*Albany County improved its grade for ozone from an F to a D. The county also had sufficient data to receive a passing grade for year-round particle pollution. Schenectady County earned a C making it the cleanest county for ozone in the Capital Region. Saratoga County had the worst ozone pollution in the Capital Region. Rensselaer County received an F and was one of only two counties in the state to experience more unhealthy ozone days than the prior year.

North Country

* Essex and St. Lawrence are among the top 25 cleanest counties nationwide for both annual particle pollution, and short-term particle pollution. Franklin and Hamilton counties are among the least polluted in the state for ozone. Jefferson and Essex counties both received failing grades for ozone.

Central New York

* Onondaga earned a earned a place on the list as one of the cleanest counties in the nation for short-term particle pollution but earned a D for ozone. Oswego County improved from an F to a D for ozone pollution. Madison county received a D for ozone while both Herkimer and Oneida earned Cs. Oneida was one of the cleanest counties in the state for ozone pollution.

Western New York

*Erie, Monroe, Niagara and Chautauqua counties all received Fs for ozone pollution. Chautauqua is the dirtiest county in Western New York for ozone. Erie County again received a D for short-term particle pollution making it the most polluted county in Western New York for particle pollution. Monroe, Niagara and Chautauqua all received Bs for short-term particle pollution. Wayne County improved its grade for ozone pollution from an F to a D. Steuben County improved its grade for short-term particle pollution from a C to a B. Chemung is among the counties with the least ozone pollution in the state.

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