State of the Air Report Details Air Quality in New York

Despite Improvements, Air Pollution Remains a Health Risk for Most NY'ers

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ALBANY, NY (04/28/2010)(readMedia)-- The American Lung Association's State of the Air 2010 report finds that 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.

"State of the Air 2010 is encouraging because we can see that the steps we've taken, to reduce emissions from sources including power plants and diesel engines, are improving air quality," said Scott T. Santarella, President and CEO of the American Lung Association in New York. "At the same time, it's obvious that we need to do much more to clean our air. From the North Fork to Niagara Falls, far too many New Yorkers are still breathing in failing air that puts their health at risk."

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."

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.

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

Long Island

  • Nassau County had three orange particle pollution days, a decrease from five orange days in last year's report.
  • Suffolk County had the dirtiest air in the state when measured for ozone and was the only county in the state with an ozone monitor to experience a purple day. The county improved a letter grade for short-term particle pollution and received a passing grade for annual particle pollution.

New York City

  • The New York City metropolitan area ranks tied for 16th on the top 25 list of U.S. cities most polluted by ozone. In 2009, the metro area was tied for 17th place.
  • The New York City metropolitan area dropped off the 25 most polluted cities list for year round particle pollution.
  • New York ranked tied for 18th worst city for short-term particle pollution.
  • Bronx County received a passing grade for year-round particle pollution but still had the highest annual and short-term levels of any county.
  • Kings County had two fewer short-term particle days than in 2009 and improved its grade from a D to a C.
  • Richmond County's had fewer orange and red ozone days, and experienced a near 50 percent reduction in unhealthy ozone days compared with 2009.
  • Queens and New York Counties are tied for second dirtiest counties for short-term particle pollution.

Hudson Valley

  • Ulster County is the only Hudson Valley county to receive a passing grade for ozone pollution.

Capital Region

  • Albany County received an F for ozone. The county received a C for short-term particle pollution, up from a D.
  • Schenectady County earned a C making it the only Capital Region county with a passing grade for ozone.
  • Saratoga County had 20 orange days for ozone pollution, the most of any county in the Capital Region.

North Country

  • Essex County was one of the top 25 cleanest counties nationwide for annual particle pollution.
  • Franklin County improved from an F to a C in ozone pollution.
  • St. Lawrence County is again among the cleanest counties in the nation for short-term particle pollution, with zero days of any elevated levels. The County is also one of the top 25 cleanest counties nationwide for annual particle pollution.

Central New York

  • Onondaga County showed marked improvement jumping a full letter grade in both ozone and short term particle pollution. The county earned a place on the list as one of the cleanest counties in the Nation for short-term particle pollution. Syracuse-Auburn was among the cleanest U.S. cities for short-term particle pollution.
  • Oswego County experienced the highest number of ozone pollution days in Central New York, with 10 orange ozone days.

Western New York

  • Erie County received a D for short-term particle pollution, up from an F in 2009. Erie again received an F for ozone.
  • Monroe County again received an F for ozone through it experienced fewer unhealthy days. The County reduced its short-term particle pollution, earning a B this year, up from a C.
  • Niagara County received an F for ozone pollution. The county earned a B for short-term particle pollution, up from a D
  • Chautauqua County earned an F for ozone pollution. The county earned a B for short-term particle pollution this year, up from a C last year.
  • Wayne County's grade for ozone pollution dropped from a D to an F.
  • Steuben County received C's for ozone pollution and short-term particle pollution.
  • Chemung County's grade for ozone pollution dropped from a B to a C.

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