Troy Record: Rensselaer County gets an F for Air Quality

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

By Jessica M. Pasko
The Record

TROY — Rensselaer County ranks an F when it comes to ozone pollution, according to a national report card on state of air quality released Wednesday.

According to the American Lung Association’s findings, more than half the population of the U.S. still suffers pollution levels that are too dangerous to breathe despite progress in cleaning up pollution. The report found that unhealthy air remains a threat to the lives and health of more than 175 million people — roughly 58 percent of the population. The State of the Air report, released annually, uses the most recent quality-assured air pollution data collected in 2006, 2007 and 2008. The data comes from official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution: ozone and particle pollution (or soot.)

Ozone — or smog — is the most widespread air pollutant. Ground-level ozone forms when nitrogen oxide gases and volatile organic compounds from vehicle and industrial emissions react in the sunlight and heat.

“When you inhale ozone, it irritates your lungs, leaving them with something like a bad sunburn,” said Dr. Norman H. Edelman, Chief Medical Officer of the American Lung Association. “It causes health problems the day you breathe it in, and even days after. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and even shorten your life.”

Albany and Saratoga counties also earned an F in terms of ozone pollution. The grades are calculated by assigning increasing weights to the days when air pollution levels reach the higher ranges. Those are added together and then grades are assigned based on that weighted average.

For year-round levels of particle pollution, the organization uses annual average levels calculated by the Environmental Protection Agency.

In terms of short-term particle pollution, Albany County earned a grade of C, while Saratoga and Rensselaer counties received no grade in that category because of a likely lack of monitors for that type of pollution. The state and the EPA decide where to place the monitors and the ALA report on data gathered from those.

“We have been asking the state to install air monitoring stations in Rensselaer County to measure emissions from locations across the Hudson River,” said County Legislator Thomas Walsh Sr. “Prevailing winds carry emissions across the river into large area of our county. These results further demonstrate the need for air monitoring stations in our county.”

Air pollution is especially hard on those with heart or lung diseases, including asthma, bronchitis and emphysema. According to the American Lung Association, there are about 3,000 children with pediatric asthma in Rensselaer County and nearly 11,000 adults. Approximately 5,300 county residents suffer from chronic bronchitis, while 2,000 have emphysema.

“We are concerned that these results have not improved in recent years,” said Rensselaer County Legislator Alex Shannon, chairman of the legislature’s environment committee. “Our state needs an effective action plan to address the issue.”

On the national level, the cleanest cities with regards to ozone air pollution include Honolulu, Lincoln, Neb. and Port St. Lucie-Sebastian-Vero Beach in Florida. Eight of the 10 U.S. cities most polluted by ozone are in California, with the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside area taking top honors.

The report found that a decade of cleanup measures aimed at reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants along with the transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines have helped cut levels of deadly particle and ozone pollution, especially in eastern and Midwestern U.S. cities including New York City, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Lung Association officials are asking Congress to pass the Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010, which would further cut emissions from coal-fired power plants. They’re also asking the EPA to strengthen national standards for outdoor air pollutants and set tougher standards to require the cleanup of nitrogen oxide, hydrocarbons and particle emissions from cars.

The New York state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Division of Air Quality has received the report and is reviewing it, said DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino on Wednesday afternoon.

The entire report can be found at
www.stateoftheair.org.

At a glance:

Ozone pollution:

Rensselaer County – F

Albany County – F

Saratoga County – F

Short-term particle pollution:

Rensselaer County – n/a

Albany County – C

Saratoga County – n/a

Number of adults with asthma:

Rensselaer County: 10,649

Albany County: 20,772

Saratoga County: 14,856

Number of kids with asthma:

Rensselaer County: 3,131

Albany County: 5,642

Saratoga County: 4,447

Number of people with chronic bronchitis:

Rensselaer County: 5,339

Albany County: 10,380

Saratoga County: 7,436

Information from the American Lung Association.