The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2014” report released today shows that five counties in Western New York and the Southern Tier experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone (smog). Chautauqua and Erie received failing grades for ozone in the report. Only Chautauqua received an F in last year’s report. Most counties in the state, including Erie and Steuben, cut their year-round particle pollution (soot) levels compared to the 2013 report. This is in keeping with a trend seen across the nation of lower particle pollution levels. Some counties in the state experienced fewer days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels, however, short-term levels remained unchanged for counties with monitors in Western New York and the Southern Tier.
“The air in New York is certainly cleaner than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 15 years ago but we must act to protect this progress and build upon it if we are going to save lives and improve lung health,” said Michael Seilback, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “Our leaders must prioritize investments in clean, green policies instead of on old, dirty polluting technologies which create unhealthy air for New Yorkers to breathe. We still have far too many people living in counties with failing grades and far too many people struggling to breathe. Stronger health standards for pollutants and cleanup sources of pollution are sorely needed to protect both our air quality and our health.”
Nine counties in the state, including Chautauqua, received F’s for ozone. Chautauqua had the biggest increase in the number of unhealthy ozone days statewide having experienced nine additional orange unhealthy days and one additional red day compared with 2013. An orange day means the air quality was unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as those with asthma and other lung diseases, as well as children and the elderly. A red day means the air quality was unhealthy for everyone. Chautauqua is the third dirtiest county for ozone in the state. Suffolk County on Long Island continues to have the worst ozone in the state. Erie dropped from a B to a D and was one of only two counties in the state to drop two letter grades. Niagara dropped from a C to a D. Monroe and Wayne dropped from A’s to B’s. The Buffalo-Cheektowaga and the Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls metro areas both had worse ozone and ranked tied for 102nd and 155th most polluted for ozone, respectively. The Rochester metro area had ranked among the cleanest cities for ozone in the 2013 report. Steuben was the only county in the region to have zero days with unhealthy levels of ozone and received an A. Other counties in the state receiving A’s for ozone are Franklin, Hamilton, Herkimer, Oneida and Saratoga.
Ozone (smog) is the most widespread air pollutant, created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources. When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs, almost like bad sunburn. It can cause immediate health problems that continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death.
All counties in New York received passing grades for both short-term and annual particle pollution and most counties in the state had unchanged or improved annual levels compared with 2013. While Erie and Steuben had slightly improved annual levels, Chautauqua was one of only two counties in the state to have slightly worse annual particle pollution. As was the case in 2013, there was insufficient data to determine annual particle pollution levels in Monroe or Niagara. To receive a grade, an air monitor must obtain data for the three consecutive years The Buffalo-Cheektowaga metro area ranked tied for 112th most polluted for annual particle pollution and had its lowest levels ever of the pollutant. Meanwhile, Elmira-Corning ranked 20th on the list of cleanest cities for annual particle pollution.
For short-term particle pollution, Chautauqua, Niagara and Steuben were among the six counties in the state to earn A’s having zero days with unhealthy levels. The other counties earning A’s were Essex, Onondaga and Suffolk. The Buffalo-Cheektowaga and Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls metro areas both ranked tied for 96th most polluted for short-term particle pollution. At the same time, Elmira-Corning ranked among the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution.
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. Much like ozone pollution is likened to sunburn on the lungs,” exposure to particle pollution has been compared to rubbing sandpaper on the lungs.
“While we can celebrate the continued reduction of year-round particle pollution in much of the Northeast and the nation thanks to cleaner diesel fleets and cleaner power plants it’s clear that we’re going to need to do even more to reduce ozone pollution which is a tremendous health threat to all of us but especially to people with lung disease,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association. “Warmer temperatures create a breeding ground for ozone pollution and climate change will make it even more challenging to protect human health. We call on Congress to not only uphold the Clean Air Act, but to ensure that the EPA and states have adequate funding to monitor and protect the public from air pollution. We simply can’t ignore the new threats that rising temperatures present.”
State of the Air 2014 report found that more than more than 147 million people – more than half of all Americans- live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution. Safeguards are necessary to protect the health of the millions of people living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution that can cause wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death. Those at greatest risk from air pollution include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung diseases like asthma, people with heart disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.
The American Lung Association calls for several steps to improve the air everyone breathes:
· Clean up power plants. The EPA needs to reduce carbon pollution. Ozone and particle pollution that blows across state lines must be controlled. In the next year, the Administration has pledged to set standards for carbon pollution from new and existing power plants.
· Strengthen the outdated ozone standards. The EPA needs to set a strong, health-based standard to limit ozone pollution. Strong standards will drive the needed cleanup of ozone across the nation.
· Clean up new wood-burning devices. The EPA needs to issue strong standards to clean up new wood stoves, outdoor wood boilers and other residential wood-burning devices.
· Fund the work to provide healthy air. Congress needs to adequately fund the work of the EPA and the states to monitor and protect the nation from air pollution.
· Protect the Clean Air Act. Congress needs to ensure that the protections under the Clean Air Act remain strong and enforced.
The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2014 report is an annual, national air quality “report card.” The 2014 report—the 15th annual release—uses the most recent quality assured air pollution data, compiled by the EPA, in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Data comes from the official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone (smog) and particle pollution (PM 2.5, also known as soot). The report grades counties and ranks cities and counties based on their scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels.
The American Lung Association of the Northeast urges the public to join the fight for clean air and to learn how to protect themselves and their families from air pollution by visiting www.stateoftheair.org. For more information on air quality in New York, visit us online at www.lungne.org and follow us on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LungNE and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LungNE.