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Lung Association Releases Annual “State of the Air” Report

Composite image by Dave Lucas/WAMC

The American Lung Association has released its annual air quality report. WAMC's Capital Region Bureau Chief Dave Lucas has details on how the Northeast fared.

"The American Lung Association looks at air pollution monitoring data nationwide and translates that into grades and rankings to help make it easier for everyone to understand about the air quality in the cities and counties where they live."  Janice Nolen is ALA's assistant vice president for National Policy. She headed the team that produced the 2018 “State of the Air”  report.  "As we have done since the first report in 2000, we look at three years of data, using data from local, state, tribal and federal monitors across the nation. In this report we look at two types of air pollution: ozone, often called smog, and particle pollution, often called soot."

Michael Seilback is Vice President, Public Policy & Communications for the ALA Northeast Region.  "We saw over 96 percent of Connecticut residents living in areas with failing air quality. In New York, we saw almost 50 percent of the population living in counties with failing air quality. This year's report had some good news. Vermont, for example, and Massachusettes, saw their air quality improve, almost across the board, and Burlington was one of only a few cities that was on the clean cities list for all of the air pollutants we measure."

The 19th Annual State of the Air report is not a good one for the Empire State. It found that 9.4 million New Yorkers are breathing unhealthy air. Sixteen of the 27 reporting counties saw falling grades – and metro areas throughout the state experienced a greater amount of unhealthy air days due to ozone, part of a national trend.

On the bright side, the metro areas around Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo were all found to rank among the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution.

Jeff Seyler is the ALA's Chief Division Officer:   "Despite the improvements we've seen in air quality since we started compiling this report 19 years ago, unhealthy levels of air pollution still exist throughout the country and right here in New York. The State of the Air 2018 is based on data reported from 2014 to 2016 and finds that air pollution worsened compared to last year's reports, specifically ozone pollution. Nearly 4 in 10 people in the United States, more than 133.9 million Americans, live in counties where they are exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution in the form of either ozone or particle pollution. This year's State of the Air report shows that despite the recent increase in ozone pollution, the Clean Air act has worked to clean up much of the dangerous air pollution across the nation for decades. The air is cleaner, but not clean enough, to protect people's health from harm. And climate change will continue to make both ozone pollution and particle pollution harder to clean up."
Nolen says weakening the Clean Air Act tops the list of six threats identified in this year’s report.   "The second threat is repealing plans to reduce carbon pollution from power plants. Unfortunately last year the EPA administrator proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan, the only nationwide strategic approach to cutting carbon pollution from the largest industrial scale source of carbon pollution in the United States, power plants. The third threat is removing limits on emissions from oil and gas operations. Threat number four: opening doors for more polluting trucks and cars. In 2017 EPA proposed to create a loophole to allow the sale of much dirtier heavy duty diesel trucks, despite broad opposition from the rest of the trucking industry. And earlier this month, the administrator proposed, EPA and the department of transportation proposed new rules to weaken adopted standards for greenhouse gas emission reductions from cars, from personal trucks and SUVs. Threat number five: cutting funding and expertise to clean up the air."

  • Regional Results:

New York- Newark Metro Area (includes Bronx, Dutchess, Kings, Nassau, New York, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester counties, along with select counties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut, as per the 2010 census):

The New York City metro area continued to rank on one of the most polluted cities lists, for ozone (#10).   It no longer ranked in the top 25 worst cities for year-round particle pollution, landing at spot 26. While the metro area saw more high ozone days this year, it improved for moth short-term and year-round particle pollution. 

The New York City metro area includes all of the five counties in the state (Suffolk, Bronx, Richmond (Staten Island) Queens, and Westchester) to record continued failing grades for ozone. Staten Island has regained the dubious distinction of having the worst ozone levels in New York State. 

Long Island (Suffolk County):

Suffolk County remained among the worst counties for ozone with 23 high ozone days with a weighted average of 7.7.  While its grade remained an F, it did show a slight improvement from last year’s report which showed that Suffolk residents experienced 24 high ozone giving it a weighted average of 8.7. 

Suffolk, with an estimated population of 1.49 million people, also includes a high number of at-risk residents, including more 29,000 children with pediatric asthma, more than 112,000 adults with asthma, 63,000 adults with COPD and 875 people with lung cancer. Additional factors for people whose health is at greater risk because of bad air quality include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and poverty.  More Suffolk residents struggle with these health issues than in the majority of other counties measured.

“Once again Suffolk County has some of the worst ozone pollution in New York State,” said Seilback, a Suffolk County resident.  “We must continue to see efforts on the local, state and federal level to combat this deadly problem.”

Hudson Valley (Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam and Rockland Counties):

The Hudson Valley contains some of the most polluted air in all of New York State.  Putnam and Dutchess counties moved from C grades to Ds due to more high ozone days, while Westchester Orange and Rockland maintained their grades (F, C, D respectively) on ozone from the 2017 report.

Together these five counties represent more than 43,000 children with pediatric asthma, 152,000 adults with asthma, 85,000 adults with COPD and 1,200 people with lung cancer. Additional factors for people whose health is at greater risk because of bad air quality include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and poverty. 

Capital Region (Albany-Schenectady metro area; Albany and Saratoga counties):

The Albany-Schenectady metro area fell to 94th most polluted for ozone from 136 last year.  Both Albany and Saratoga Counties fell back one grade, from an A to a B in Albany and from a B to a C in Saratoga.   Its year round particle pollution measured slightly better this year, at 7.1 µg/m3, from 7.4 µg/m3 in 2013-2015, making 2014-2016 its lowest ever recorded level.

The city of Albany was one of four New York cities to rank as one of the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution, with no unhealthy days, making this year another best ever measurement.

“Upstate New York fell back this year on ozone, which is a reflection of the effects of climate change and 2016 being one of the hottest years on record.   This report is a reminder of all the work we have yet to do to protect New Yorkers from emissions and unhealthy air.” said Kristina Wieneke, Director of Public Policy in New York for the American Lung Association.

Western New York (Buffalo-Cheektowaga, Syracuse-Auburn, and Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls, Elmira-Corning metro areas, and Chautauqua, Erie, Monroe, Niagara, Steuben, Wayne counties):

Western New York metro areas displayed similar set back on ozone, with Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo all ranking higher on the most polluted lists.  

Erie County increased to 3.7 days of unhealthy ozone on average, an F in 2014-2016. In the 2017 report, the metro had recorded its fewest ever unhealthy days on average, 3.0 days, earning a D. Even with this increase, the metro area is still improved over the 6.5 days in the 2016 report, and much better than the worst period, 2001-2003, when the city had 34.2 days on average.

Both Onondaga County and Oswego County had more unhealthy ozone days in 2014-2016, increasing to 0.7 days on average (a B), from the 0.3 days (a B) in Oswego County in 2013-2015, which had been the best ever.

Albany-Schenectady, Buffalo-Cheektowaga, Elmira-Corning, and Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls were all named among the cleanest for short-term particle pollution, all registering 0 unhealthy days.

While the report examined data from 2014-2016, this 19th annual report provides online information on air pollution trends back to the first report covering 1996-1998.

Learn more about New York State rankings, as well as air quality across the state and the nation, in the 2018 “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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