Long Island Press: Suffolk County's Ozone Pollution Worst in State

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Suffolk County is the dirtiest county in New York State when it comes to ozone pollution, according to The American Lung Association's State of the Air 2010 report which says more than 12 million New Yorkers live in counties where air pollution threatens their health, and even their lives.

According to the report, 19 of the 33 counties monitored in New York state received failing grades for 2010. But it also showed that continued efforts to clean up the state's air pollution are working.

"While many portions of this year's report are encouraging, far too many Suffolk County residents are breathing air that puts their health at risk," said 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, Long Island still has some significant air quality improvements left to make."

The State of the Air report, found at www.alany.org, provides an annual national air quality "report card," based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's color-coded Air Quality Index. Using the most recent quality-assured data, the report assigns A-F grades to counties. The American Lung Association identified the number of days that each county with at least one air quality monitor experienced air quality designated as orange (unhealthy for sensitive groups), red (unhealthy), or purple (very unhealthy), to determine the grades.

"Air pollution affects everyone but it is even more of a threat to people with lung disease," said Dr. Irwin Berlin, Chief of the Pulmonary/Critical Care Medicine Division at Elmhurst Hospital Center. "Ozone irritates the lungs when it is breathed in, and, particle pollution can be deadly. For my patients to have healthier lungs, we need to have cleaner air."

Significant findings from the report for Long Island include:

  • Nassau County received a C for particle pollution, the same grade it received in 2009. However, this year Nassau County had three orange particle pollution days, a decrease from five orange days in last year's report.
  • Suffolk County received an F for ozone pollution and had the dirtiest air in the state when measured for ozone. It was also the only county in the state with an ozone monitor to experience a purple day.
  • Suffolk improved a letter grade for short-term particle pollution, receiving a B this year up from last year's C. The County experienced one orange particle pollution day down from 3 in last year's report. The county also received a passing grade for annual particle pollution. Last year, results were inconclusive for annual particle pollution and the county did not receive a grade.

Ozone, or smog-is the most widespread air pollutant. It is a gas formed most often when sunlight reacts with vapors emitted when motor vehicles, factories, power plants and other sources burn fuel. Breathing in ozone irritates the respiratory tract and causes health problems like asthma attacks, coughing, wheezing, chest pain and even premature death.

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.