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American Lung Association Releases 2021 State Of The Air Report

The American Lung Association has released its latest State of the Air report.

The 2021 report, the ALA’s 22nd, covers data from the years 2017-19. It finds more than 40 percent of Americans live with unhealthy air.

Trevor Summerfield is director of advocacy with the American Lung Association for New York, Massachusetts and Vermont.

"New York State reported mixed progress on air pollution throughout its counties and metro areas. All major metro areas in the state, including New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany, all recorded worsened year round particle pollution. However, they did record fewer unhealthy days for ozone pollution. Particle pollution and ozone are two of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution"

Summerfield says that while long term trends show great progress, there is still significant work to be done.

"Not only did this year's report show worsened year round particle pollution for several metro areas, but it reinforced what we already know that people of color are significantly more likely to breathe polluted air, and our elected officials in New York state must take bold action recognizing climate change and its impact on worsened air pollution as a serious public health concern. "

The report says nationwide, people of color are 61 percent more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air than white people.

Summerfield says New York has already made strides following Governor Andrew Cuomo's 2019 signing of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which set the groundwork for New York to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 1990 levels by 40 percent by 2030, and no less than 85 percent by 2050.

When it comes to the air we breathe every day, Summerfield says all counties in New York, VermontMassachusetts and Connecticut maintained A or B grades for short term particle pollution.

"New York State has been plagued by harmful air pollutants for decades. The American Lung Association’s 2021 State of the Air report shows that while long-term trends show great progress, there is still significant work to be done." ~ ALA's Trevor Summerfield

ALA says particle pollution from smokestacks and vehicle exhaust pipes can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks and can interfere with the growth and work of the lungs.

Often called "smog," ozone is also harmful to breathe. ALA says ozone aggressively attacks lung tissue by reacting chemically with it. When ozone is present, there are other harmful pollutants created by the same processes that make ozone.

"I would say locally that Albany County improved on ozone, and went from a C to a B grade. Saratoga County improved from a C to a B grade. Dutchess County improved from a D to a C, Putnam County from an F to a D, Rockland County from an F to a D, and Herkimer County from a C to an A. And these are all counties that actually recorded the ozone pollution. Not every county records this data. But those are some that I would point to locally that did improve this year.”

In Vermont for ozone, Rutland and Chittenden earned Grade A, Bennington got a B. Massachusetts counties received mixed grades ranging from A to F. The majority of Connecticut counties are graded F, with the exception of Hartford, a D, and Litchfield which got the highest mark, a C. Back in New York, Summerfield notes Western New York's Monroe County needs improvement, while Suffolk County on Long Island had some of the worst data when it came to ozone levels.

"They had 26 recorded unhealthy days from 2017 through 2019. And those are days that are either unhealthy for sensitive groups, folks suffering from lung disease or ailments such have asthma, or completely unhealthy days for the entire population. So those are two counties and that I would point to that need work."

The report says that climate change continues to worsen air pollution across much of the nation.

Summerfield adds that between the Clean Air Act at the federal level and New York's Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, air quality is set to improve so Northeast residents can breathe easier as the years go by.

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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