Capital Region Air Quality Shows Mixed Results in American Lung Association's State of the Air Report

Ozone Pollution Gets Better in Albany, Worse in Rensselaer

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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 A statewide press release, which includes grades for all New York counties with air quality monitors, is also available.

The American Lung Association's State of the Air 2011 report finds that the Capital Region's air is getting cleaner but is still in need of improvement. According to the report, over 9 million New Yorkers – nearly half of the state's residents -- live in counties where unhealthy air threatens their lives and health. This year, 16 of the 34 counties in New York State with air quality monitors received failing grades, including two in the Capital Region. Nevertheless, the report also shows that efforts underway to clean up air pollution in the state are making a difference. Albany County improved its grade for ozone from an F to a D.

"While State of the Air 2011 shows some improvements in the Capital Region's air quality, more progress needs to be made," said Sandra Kessler, Interim President and CEO, American Lung Association in New York. "This report illustrates that air pollution isn't just a downstate problem. Whether you live in Rensselaer or Saratoga or anywhere in between, air pollution affects you. These results we're seeing 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 state government doesn't roll back important clean air regulations. Our goal must be to have cleaner air throughout the entire region."

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."

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 our Fight for Air Climb in Albany on June 12.

"With our right to breathe healthy air being challenged in the halls of Congress and in the Capitol, 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."

Significant findings from the report for the Capital Region include:

Albany-Schenectady-Amsterdam ranked tied for 67th on the list of most polluted cities for ozone out of 228 metro areas nationwide. The region also tied for 97th on the list of most polluted cities for short-term particle pollution out of 230 metro areas. Finally, the region was 47th cleanest on the list of cities ranked for annual particle pollution out of 218 total metro areas.

*Albany County received a D for ozone pollution with 9 orange ozone days, one fewer than last year. The county again received a C for short-term particle pollution, though it experienced one fewer high particle day than it did 2010. While inconclusive results prevented Albany from receiving a grade for annual particle pollution last year, there was sufficient data to give the county a passing grade this year.

*Rensselaer County, which again received an F for ozone, was the only Capital Region county (and only one of two counties in the state) to register an increase in the number of unhealthy ozone days recorded. Rensselaer had 10 orange ozone days last year and experienced 11 during the period covered by this year's report.

*Schenectady County had the cleanest air when measured for ozone in the Capital region. The county, which again received a C, had four orange ozone days, the same number as in 2010.

* Saratoga County received an F for ozone with 19 orange days, one fewer than last year. The county still had the most orange ozone days of any Capital Region county.

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.

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