Report Finds Air in Western New York Remains Unhealthy

While Some Counties' Air Quality Improves, Others Worsens

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ROCHESTER, NY (04/28/2010)(readMedia)-- The American Lung Association's State of the Air 2010 report finds that air quality in Western New York needs improving. According to the report, over 12 million New Yorkers – more than 62 percent of the state's residents -- live in counties where unhealthy air threatens their lives and health. This year, 19 of the 33 counties in New York state with air quality monitors received failing grades. Nevertheless, the report also shows that efforts underway to clean up air pollution in the state are making a difference.

"While many portions of this year's report are encouraging, far too many residents in the western part of the state are breathing air that puts their health at risk," said Scott T. Santarella, President and CEO of the American Lung Association in New York. "While in many parts of the state, we can see reduced emissions from sources including power plants and diesel engines; Western New York's dirty air illustrates well that air pollution is not just a downstate problem."

The State of the Air report, found at, provides an annual national air quality "report card," based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's color-coded Air Quality Index. Using the most recent quality-assured data, the report assigns A-F grades to counties. 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.

"Air pollution affects everyone but it is even more of a threat to people with lung disease," said Dr. Irwin Berlin, Chief of the Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine Division at Elmhurst Hospital Center. "Ozone irritates the lungs when it is breathed in, and, particle pollution can be deadly. For my patients to have healthier lungs, we need to have cleaner air."

Significant findings from the report for Western New York include:

  • Erie County received a D for short-term particle pollution in this year's report, up from an F last year. While the county still received an F for ozone pollution, it experienced 24 orange days, 10 fewer orange days than reported in 2009. This year the county had no red ozone days.
  • Monroe County, which received an F in last year's report for ozone again received an F, with 17 orange days, two fewer than 2009. The county had just one orange short-term particle day this year and earned a B up from a C in 2009.
  • Niagara County reduced its number of orange ozone days from 32 in 2009 to 19 in 2010 but still received a failing grade. For short-term particle pollution, the county went from a D to a B with just two orange short-term particle days compared with eight in 2009.
  • Chautauqua County earned an F for ozone. This year there were 35 orange ozone days down from 48 in 2009 and no red days. Chautauqua earned a B for short term particle pollution this year, improving a letter grade.
  • Wayne County's earned an F for ozone this year, a lower score than last year. The county had 11 orange days for ozone pollution, two more than last year.
  • Steuben County received a C for ozone pollution this year with four orange ozone days. In 2009, the county had insufficient data to receive a grade. With three orange days for short-term particle pollution, the county again earned a C.
  • Chemung County's grade for ozone dropped from a B to a C, as the County experienced three orange ozone days in this report period, up from two in 2009.

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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