Buffalo News: State of the Air Report reveals Western New Yorkers still at risk

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By Gene Warner

NEWS STAFF REPORTER

If Western New York were a student being tested on its air quality, it no doubt would be battling to keep from flunking out of school.

The report card for the three local counties whose air quality has been monitored — Erie, Niagara and Chautauqua — contains two B's, a D and three F's, according to the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2010 report being released today.

That's the dirty news for Western New York, but there is a little bit of clean air in the report.

All three counties that have been monitored here at least improved their grades for short-term particle pollution from last year.

Erie County went from an F to a D, Niagara from a D to a B and Chautauqua from a C to a B. Only those three counties have Environmental Protection Agency air-quality monitors for ozone and particle pollution.

Not exactly grades that will earn anyone a spot on the Dean's List.

"While many portions of this year's report are encouraging, far too many residents in the western part of the state are breathing air that puts their health at risk," stated Scott T. Santarella, president and CEO of the American Lung Association in New York.

"While in many parts of the state, we can see reduced emissions from sources including power plants and diesel engines, Western New York's dirty air illustrates . . . that air pollution is not just a downstate problem," he added.

The annual report, the association's 11th, covers air quality across the nation for the three-year period 2006 to 2008. Last year's report detailed the results from 2005 through 2007.

The bad news for the region is that all three counties again receive F's for ozone quality.

Yet, American Lung Association officials pointed out that each of the three counties measured significantly fewer unhealthy ozone days for sensitive groups of people.

"No parent is going to be happy with a child coming home with an F grade," said Michael Seilback, vice president for public policy with the New York association. "But the difference between a 64 and a 40 is very significant. At least we're going in the right direction."

Western New York's pollution comes from a variety of sources, including old dirty power plants, traffic and industry corridors — including the bridges to Canada — and coal-powered plants from the Midwest.

Nationally, the association presented a similarly mixed picture of unhealthy air quality tempered by progress in addressing the problem.

"Air pollution still remains widespread and dangerous," said Janice Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy with the association. "More than 175 million people live in areas where air pollution levels put their lives at risk."

The American Lung Association listed the usual populations that remain at risk from air pollution, including children, older people with weak immune systems, diabetics and people with heart disease.

But the association also listed two new populations at risk, according to Dr. Norman H. Edelman, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association:

• Healthy adults who spend a lot of time working or exercising outdoors, including people who work with or near diesel engines, dock workers and railroad workers.

• People with lower incomes, because they have generally poorer health and are more likely to live in more polluted areas.

The report can be found at www.alany.org.