Editors' Note: Multimedia toolkit including broadcast quality b-roll and photographs are available at www.stateoftheair.com. Trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at www.stateoftheair.org 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 air quality in Central New York is improving. Most counties experienced the same or slightly fewer unhealthy ozone days than they did in 2010. With Oswego County improving its ozone grade from an F to a D in this year's report, all Central New York counties with ozone monitors received passing grades. 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. Nevertheless, the report shows that efforts underway to clean up air pollution are making a difference in Central New York and throughout the state.
"While State of the Air 2011 is encouraging in that all Central New York counties received passing grades, some counties still received D's which tells us that we need to do a better job cleaning up ozone pollution," said Sandra Kessler, Interim President and CEO, American Lung Association in New York. "These results show very clearly that air pollution isn't just a downstate problem; it's a problem all across the state and it affects you whether you live in Onondaga County or in Oswego. 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."
State of the Air 2011, 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 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 one of the American Lung Association's Fight for Air walks or climbs being held across the state this spring and fall.
"With our right to breathe healthy air being challenged in the halls of Congress and in Albany, 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 Central New York include:
* Onondaga County earned a D this year with eight orange ozone days, one fewer than in 2010. For the second year in a row, the county had no unhealthy short-term particle pollution days, earning it an A. Onondaga County is one of the cleanest counties for short-term particle pollution. And Syracuse-Auburn was rated one of the cleanest U.S. cities for short-term particle pollution. On the nationwide list of cities ranked for annual particle pollution, Syracuse-Auburn was 34th cleanest out of 218 metro areas. The area tied for 94th cleanest out of 228 metro areas ranked for ozone pollution.
* Herkimer County earned a C with four orange ozone days in this year's report, the same as in 2010.
* Oneida County again earned a C with three orange days for ozone pollution, the same as in 2010. On the nationwide list of cities ranked for ozone pollution, Utica-Rome tied for 62nd cleanest out of 228 total metro areas.
* Madison County had eight orange ozone days, the same as in 2010. The county again received a D in this year's report.
* Oswego County received a D for ozone pollution, up from an F in 2010. The county had eight orange days in this year's report, two fewer than in 2010. Oswego still had the highest number of ozone pollution days in Central New York.
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.