Over 6.7 Million New Yorkers Live with Failing Air Quality, According to Lung Association’s 2017 ‘State of the Air’ Report

Despite Improvements Made in 14 Counties, 1 of 3 New Yorkers Remain at Risk from Health Effects of Unhealthy Air.

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New York, NY - April 19, 2017 - The American Lung Association’s 2017 “State of the Air” report found that despite overwhelming improvements throughout the state of New York, more than one third of New Yorkers are still breathing unhealthy air, earning a failed grade for high ozone days. Ozone is an invisible gas and is not only the most widespread pollutant in the U.S. but it is also one of the most dangerous. Ozone is especially harmful to children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases.
 
Overall 14 New York State counties saw their grade for ozone exposure improve.  Albany, Essex, Hamilton, Jefferson, Monroe, Niagara, Onondaga and Tomkins counties saw their grade improve by two grades or more, with Monroe county making the biggest jump from a F to an A.  These grades signify a dramatic decrease in high ozone days; In the case of Monroe County, residents experienced 12 high ozone days from 2012-2014 and 0 from 2013-2015.
 
Of the 27 counties measured, only Franklin and Orange counties reported worsened air quality.  Both went from an A grade in the 2016 report to a C grade this year due to additional high ozone days.  Suffolk County remained the county with the worst recorded air quality in both the 2016 and 2017 State of the Air reports with 23 and 24 high ozone days (respectively). Suffolk, along with Bronx, Queens, Richmond and Westchester counties all continued to record failing grades for ozone, representing 6,747,135 New Yorkers breathing in harmful air.
 
“According to the 2017 ‘State of the Air,’ millions of New Yorkers are at risk of unhealthful levels of ozone, putting them at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, worsened COPD symptoms and cardiovascular harm,” said Jeff Seyler, President and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “While the report found continued improvement in air quality across the country, 40 percent of Americans still live with unhealthful air, including 34% of New Yorkers breathing in dangerous levels of ozone, placing their health at risk.”
 
Nationwide, ozone pollution has decreased, thanks to the Clean Air Act’s success at cleaning up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles. However, research shows that climate change causes warmer temperatures, which makes ozone harder to clean up.
 
The report also measured particle pollution, which is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes. They can even cause lung cancer, and early death.  All 27 counties sustained A’s for short term periods and overall passing grades for the annual measurement.  This is in keeping with a trend seen across the nation of lower year-round particle pollution levels. In fact, in our first State of the Air report (dated 2000), the worst counties in New York experienced over 14 days of elevated particle pollution.  In today’s report, that number is zero across the board.
 
“Across the country, year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines,” said Michael Seilback, Vice President, Public Policy & Communications for them American Lung Association of the Northeast. “This is something we’ve benefited from in New York and throughout the Northeast region, as we’ve seen a reduction in our year-round particle counts.
 
The most notable national findings of the 18th annual report were lower overall ozone levels and lower year-round particle levels, offset by a continued trend of extreme short-term spikes in particle pollution, often related to wildfires or droughts. The report finds that the health of 43 million people across the country are at risk from these dangerous spikes in particle pollution.
 
Each year the “State of the Air” reports on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution (smog) and particle pollution (soot). The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can be lethal. But the trends reported in this year’s report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2013-2015, are strikingly different for these pollutants, nationwide, and throughout New York State.
 
“New York has a lot of opportunities to improve our air quality.  The Cuomo Administration continues to make choices that could impact air quality, including incentivizing the use of burning biomass; further delays in implementation of the state’s Diesel Emission Reduction Act,” said Seilback. “On the positive side, the state has made some solid commitments to reduce carbon pollution, begun construction of off-shore wind farms and created more infrastructure for electric vehicles.
 
“Healthy air protections are under attack, and must be defended to save lives here and across the country. Air travels from one state to another, so only federal protections can help protect the air we all breathe,” said Seyler. “The Lung Association calls on President Trump, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and members of Congress to fully fund, implement and enforce the Clean Air Act for all air pollutants – including those that drive climate change and make it harder to ensure healthy air for all Americans.”
 
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 continues to rank on two of the most polluted cities lists, for ozone (#9) and for year-round particle pollution (tied for #22).  While the metro area saw fewer high ozone days this year, the national trends and momentum in other cities resulted in a worse ranking than last year, when it tied for 14th in the nation.
 
Its 22nd place ranking on the list for worst year-round particle pollution also deteriorated (tied for 26th last year), but still reflects measurements that meet the national standard for annual PM 2.5.  Manhattan, NY, became the most polluted county in this metro area for short-term particle pollution, and increased the year-round level to 11.0 µg/m3 from last year’s reported 10. 6 µg/m3 in Hudson County, NJ. Last year’s most polluted county, Hudson County, NJ, also increased to 10.8 µg/m.
 
Contrarily, the metro area did see a decrease in short-term particle spikes to its fewest unhealthy days ever.
 
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.
 
Long Island (Suffolk County):
 
Suffolk County remained the county with the worst recorded air quality in both the 2016 and 2017 State of the Air reports with 23 and 24 high ozone days (respectively).  Last year’s report showed that Suffolk residents experienced 17 high ozone days labeled “Orange” and 6 labeled “Red”, giving it a weighted average of 8.7.  This year, Suffolk’s high ozone days totaled 22 “Orange” and 2 “Red,” resulting in a slightly improved 8.3 weighted average.
 
Suffolk, with an estimated population of 1,501,587, also includes a high number of at-risk residents, including more 32,800 children with pediatric asthma, more than 116,000 adults with asthma, 70,000 adults with COPD and 910 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 earned the dubious distinction of having the worst ozone pollution in New York State,” said Seilback.  “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.  While Putnam, Westchester and Dutchess counties maintained their grades (C, F, C respectively) on ozone from the 2016 report, Orange County was one of only two counties to have lost traction in the report, its grade on ozone falling from an A to a C, due to expose days increasing from 0 from 2012-2014 to 4 between 2013-2015.
 
However, Rockland County improved its grade from an F to a D and cut its high ozone days by a third, from 12 to 8 days and from a weighted average of 4.2 to 2.7.
 
Together these five counties represent 48,749 children with pediatric asthma, 157,327 adults with asthma, 94,265 adults with COPD and 1,256 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 tied 136th most polluted for ozone and 143rd most polluted for year-round particle pollution.  It’s year round particle pollution measured slightly worse this year, at 7.4 µg/m3, from 7.3 µg/m3 in 2012-2014, but still meets the national air quality standard. This is likely a result influenced by a slight increase of particle pollution originating from Albany County, NY.
 
The city of Albany was one of three New York cities to reach its lowest level of ozone ever (along with Buffalo and Rochester) and was ranked as one of the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution, with no unhealthy days, making this year its best ever measurement.
 
Albany County saw a major improvement in ozone this year, raising its grade from a D to an A, and reducing high ozone days from 7 (2.3 weighted average) to 0.
 
Saratoga maintained its B grade, but also lowered its high ozone days from 2 to 1.
 
“Upstate New York has made considerable improvements in air quality in this year’s report.  Despite these results, we know that wood smoke continues to be a major health problem for some residents in New York and we must ensure that emissions from all sources continue to be limited,” said Kristina Wieneke, Director of Public Policy in New York for the American Lung Association of the Northeast.
 
Western/Central 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 big improvements seen on the various clean city lists: Elmira-Corning, Ithaca-Cortland, and Utica-Rome metro areas were named among the top 25 cleanest for ozone; Elmira-Corning, and Syracuse-Auburn were named among the top 25 cleanest for year-round particle pollution; and 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
 
The Buffalo-Cheektowaga tied for 61st most polluted for ozone, but saw its best levels of ozone ever. It ranked 102nd most polluted for year-round particles, but again saw the lowest levels ever and reported under the national standard.  These improvements are due largely due to changes in Erie County, where ozone days were cut in half and particle pollution measured 8.6 µg/m3, the lowest ever.
 
The Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls metro area tied for 136th most polluted for ozone (111th last year), reporting its best ever numbers. It was also ranked 153rd most polluted for year-round particles, as new readings show levels well below the standard. Within the metro area, Monroe County showed the biggest improvements, showing a particle pollution measurement of 7.2 µg/m3 in 2013-2015, its lowest level ever – and no unhealthy ozone days.  Of all New York State counties, Monroe air quality was most drastically improved, reflected in its jump from an F grade in 2016 to an A grade in 2017.
 
All counties included in the 2017 State of the Air report in the Western New York region showed improvements, except Steuben county, which maintained it’s A grade from last year.
 
North Country (Essex, Franklin, Jefferson, Hamilton and Herkimer counties):
 
Of the counties measured within New York’s North Country region, Essex, Jefferson and Hamilton all improved by two or more grade levels on ozone pollution.  Herkimer maintained it’s a grade from last year, but Franklin served as an outlier, bucking the regional and national norms by sinking from an A grade to a C grade.
 
Learn more about New York State’s rankings, as well as air quality across Northeast and the nation in the 2017 “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota. For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, contact the American Lung Association in the Northeast at Jennifer.Solomon@lung.org.
 
About the American Lung Association of the Northeast
The American Lung Association of the Northeast is part of the American Lung Association, the oldest voluntary health organization in the U.S. Established in 1904 to combat tuberculosis; our mission today is to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. The focus is on air quality, asthma, tobacco control, and all lung disease. The American Lung Association in the Northeast serves CT, MA, ME, NH, NY, RI and VT. Lung.org.