New York Air Quality: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Lung Association’s 2008 State of the Air Report Chronicles Unhealthy Ozone, Soot Levels

ALBANY, NY (05/01/2008)(readMedia)-- The American Lung Association of New York today sounded the alarms for all New Yorkers over the quality of air they breathe. According to the State of the Air: 2008 report, released today by the American Lung Association, seven of the 33 counties with air quality monitors received failing grades.

“Air pollution in New York is a statewide problem, from Buffalo to Bayport, and from Staten Island to Saratoga, millions of New Yorkers are breathing unhealthy air,” said Michael Seilback, Senior Director of Public Policy & Advocacy. “According to the 2008 American Lung Association State of the Air report, residents of all regions of New York State breathe air with dangerously high levels of both particulate matter and ozone.”

The American Lung Association’s State of the Air report, issued annually and in its ninth consecutive year of publication, grades cities for three types of air pollution: short-term particle pollution, year-round particle pollution and ozone pollution. The report also ranks U.S. cities and counties with the dirtiest air, and provides county-by-county report cards on the two most pervasive air pollutants: particle pollution (soot) and ozone (smog).

“Depending on where you live in New York, the air you breathe ranges from good to bad to down right ugly,” added Seilback. “The ugliest unhealthy air contains deadly toxins that place those people already in high-risk categories -- children, teens and seniors, and people with asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, cardiovascular disease and diabetes -- in grave danger.”

As evidence of air quality issues facing New Yorkers, the New York City metropolitan area ranked 8th on the top 10 list of cities across the nation most polluted by ozone.

“In New York City, where the asthma rates are some of the highest in the nation, it is simply unacceptable that residents are being forced to breathe this toxic air,” said Louise Vetter, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the City of New York. “Poor air quality not only worsens quality of life, but it can also be a death sentence for those suffering from lung disease.”

Although air quality improved overall across New York State from the 2007 report, more counties received grades of C or below for both smog and soot than received A’s and B’s. According to the report, 8,260,033 New Yorkers live in counties that have failing air quality -- equaling 48 percent of the State’s residents.

“These grades illustrate that too many New Yorkers -- almost half of our state’s residents -- are exposed to unhealthy air,” added Deborah Carioto, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of New York State. “While this year’s report shows improvements in the air quality in much of our state, Long Island and Western New York are noticeable exceptions.”

Ozone, a gas formed most often when sunlight reacts with vapors emitted when motor vehicles, factories, power plants and other sources burn fuel, irritates the respiratory tract and causes health problems like asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, chest pain and even premature death. Particle pollution 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.

The grades for ozone pollution were given before the EPA announced a stricter ozone standard in March. Under these more stringent guidelines, many of the counties in New York State would have received lower grades.

Significant findings from the report for New York State include:

The Good:

-- This year, eight counties in New York State improved to an A for ozone pollution. In last year’s report, no counties received A’s for ozone pollution.

-- Elmira, Rochester, and Utica-Rome made the national list of cleanest cities for ozone. Rochester is one of only 2 cities over 1 million in population to make the list.

-- Eight counties made the list of cleanest counties in the nation for ozone: Chemung, Herkimer, Madison, Monroe, Oneida, Schenectady, Ulster and Wayne counties.

-- Essex County tied for 20th cleanest county for year-round particle pollution.

The Bad:

--While all counties with air quality monitors either stayed the same or improved overall from last year’s ozone grades, nearly half of the counties still reported grades of C or below, with Chautauqua, Richmond, Suffolk and Westchester Counties failing.

--Throughout the state, no counties were awarded an A for short-term particle pollution. Only three counties (Chautauqua, Onondaga, and St. Lawrence) received B’s, and most of the counties with monitors received grades of C, D or F.

--For those counties with air quality monitors, the grades for annual particle pollution were static from 2007 to 2008. Although most counties reporting did pass, the Bronx and Manhattan still showed no improvement and failed again.

The Ugly:

--Overall, there was not a single county in the entire state that received A’s across the board.

--The New York City metropolitan area ranked 8th on the top 10 list of cities across the nation most polluted by ozone.

--The five boroughs of New York City got no better than a C in both ozone and short-term particle pollution, while three of the counties (Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island) did manage to pass the annual particle pollution standard. Staten Island failed for ozone, and the Bronx, Manhattan and Queens all failed for short-term particle pollution.

The American Lung Association of New York will continue working hard to reduce emissions to protect all New Yorkers from the dangers of unhealthful air pollution. Our staff and volunteers will be advocating for the following measures:

-- The creation of a statewide multimillion dollar diesel cleanup fund, to help clean up the pollution from dirty diesel engines.

-- The passage in New York City of the clean air portions of Mayor Bloomberg’s PlaNYC 2030 sustainability agenda, as well as a suite of diesel bills currently pending before the City Council.

-- Fighting any efforts to weaken the federal Clean Air Act.

On the national level, for the first time ever a city outside California (Pittsburgh) tops one of the “most polluted lists” in the report. Pittsburgh moved to the top of the list of cities most polluted by short-term levels of particle pollution, a deadly cocktail of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols that can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end.


Since 1904, the American Lung Association of New York State has worked tirelessly to promote lung health and prevent lung disease across New York State. The premier lung health resource in New York State, the Lung Association helps to protect and educate over ten million New Yorkers across 57 counties. With the generous support of the public, the American Lung Association is “Improving life, one breath at a time.” For more information about the American Lung Association of New York state or to support the work we do, call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) or visit us online at

Founded in 1902, the American Lung Association of the City of New York is a voluntary non-profit health organization dedicated to the fight against lung disease and the promotion of lung health through research, community education and advocacy. Lung diseases, such as asthma, emphysema, lung cancer and pneumonia, are the third leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for one in seven deaths. For more information about the work of the American Lung Association of the City of New York, please call 1-800-LUNG-USA or visit

Editor’s Note – An interactive map showing air quality findings is available at Additionally, fact sheets and local information is available by contacting Brian Marchetti or Amy Henes at the above.