ALBANY, NY (04/25/2012)(readMedia)-- Editors' Note: Trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at www.stateoftheair.org. 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 2012 report finds that over 3.2 million New Yorkers live in counties where unhealthy air endangers their lives and health. In this year's report, 6 of the 34 counties in New York State with air quality monitors received failing grades, compared with 16 out of 34 counties in 2011. While significant progress continues to be made in cleaning up air pollution across the state, far too many New Yorkers still breathe unhealthy air. The standards set forth in the Clean Air Act to cleanup major air pollution sources-including coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, and SUVs-are working to drastically cut ozone (smog) and particle pollution (soot) from the air we breathe, even as the Act itself is being challenged in the halls of Congress.
"These improvements in air quality are to be applauded because cleaner air saves lives," said Jeff Seyler, President and CEO of the American Lung Association in the Northeast. "But make no mistake, air pollution in our communities continues to be a major threat that cuts lives short, routinely sends people to the hospital and makes it hard to breathe. We not only need to defend the protections in the Clean Air Act that are responsible for the progress we've made, we need to fight for tighter standards that will ensure further progress and will lead to improved lung health and more lives saved,"
State of the Air 2012 found at www.stateoftheair.org 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 13th annual release of the Lung Association's report uses the most recent EPA data collected from 2008 through 2010 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 pediatric pulmonologist in New York City, I see far too many children with asthma who suffer tremendously as a result of air pollution to the point where they need to stay indoors when ozone levels spike to protect themselves," said Dr. Luis Rodriguez, board member at the Lung Association and pediatric pulmonologist at Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn. "This needs to change and it's only going to change if there's a concerted effort to make our air cleaner. Air pollution can kill. Clean air is something all of us need to care about and fight for."
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.
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 decision makers 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 Northeast this spring and fall.
"We hope this report will be a call to action for every decisionmaker in New York to stand up for healthy air that's not going to make us sick," said Michael Seilback, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications. "We cannot afford to see state and local regulations that protect us from these pollutants relaxed and we certainly can't afford to see the Clean Air Act, which has helped save hundreds of thousands of lives, rolled back as some in Congress are trying to do. We call on our entire Congressional delegation to vote against the Gasoline Regulation Act. We call on our state delegation to continue progress on cleaning up emissions from home heating sources by introducing a bill to more tightly regulate outdoor wood boilers."
Significant findings from the report for New York, by region include:
*Suffolk County again had the worst ozone pollution in the state earning an F. The county's grade for particle pollution fell from an A to B, making it the only county in the state to drop a letter grade for either pollutant. Nassau County again received a B for particle pollution.
New York City
* The New York City metropolitan area ranked 15th on the top 25 list of U.S. cities most polluted by ozone but dropped off the list of 25 most polluted cities for particle pollution. No county in the state received a failing grade for short-term or annual particle pollution. Staten Island earned an F for ozone and was the second dirtiest county for ozone in the state. Bronx and New York Counties improved their grades for ozone from Fs to Ds; and Queens also earned a D. While Bronx County still has the worst short-term particle pollution in the state, the county improved its grade from an F to a D. Queens received a C for particle pollution and Staten Island received a B.
* Dutchess and Orange Counties both improved their grades for ozone earning D's up from last year's Fs. Meanwhile Putnam and Westchester counties received F's for ozone, even as both counties saw somewhat improved quality. Westchester was the dirtiest county in the region for ozone and third dirtiest in the state. Ulster's grade for ozone improved from a C to a B and it remains among the least polluted counties for ozone in the state. There was insufficient data for Rockland to receive a grade for ozone. Orange, Westchester and Putnam earned two Bs and a C, respectively, for particle pollution.
*Albany and Saratoga Counties both received D's for ozone. Schenectady County is still the cleanest in the Capital Region for ozone, again earning a C. Saratoga County had the worst ozone pollution in the Capital Region. Rensselaer County earned a C for ozone in this year's report, a two-letter grade improvement since 2011. Albany is the only county with a monitor for particle pollution in the Capital Region and earned a B for the pollutant.
* Hamilton earned a B and is among the least polluted counties in the state for ozone. Franklin also earned a B for ozone and Essex improved its grade from an F to a D. Jefferson earned an F for ozone. Essex was among the top 25 cleanest counties nationwide for short-term particle pollution and tied for 4th in the nation for annual particle pollution. St. Lawrence, which previously ranked among the cleanest counties for the pollutant, had insufficient data to receive a grade this year.
Central New York
* Oswego County improved from a D to a B for ozone pollution. Madison and Onondaga Counties improved their ozone grades from D's to C's, while both Herkimer and Oneida improved from C's to B's. Onondaga also kept its place on the list of the cleanest counties in the nation for short-term particle pollution.
Western New York
* Chautauqua is the dirtiest county in Western NY when it comes to ozone pollution and earned an F. Erie, Monroe and Niagara all improved their ozone grades from Fs to Cs and Wayne improved from a D to a B. Steuben received a B and Chemung a C. Erie County's grade for short-term particle pollution improved from a D to a C. Niagara's and Chautauqua's grades improved from B's to an As. Monroe and Steuben both received a B's for short-term particle pollution.
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About the American Lung Association of the Northeast
The American Lung Association of the Northeast is part of the American Lung Association, the oldest voluntary health organization in the U.S. Established in 1904 to combat tuberculosis; our mission today is to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. The focus is on air quality, asthma, tobacco control, and all lung disease. The American Lung Association of the Northeast serves CT, MA, ME, NH, NY, RI and VT. www.lungne.org