Kingston Daily Freeman: Smog levels ease in Ulster County; Dutchess gets failing grade

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Freeman staff

ULSTER County residents are breathing a little easier, according to the American Lung Association.

Dutchess County, however, continues to have air quality levels the association deems unhealthy for individuals with asthma or other respiratory ailments.

Ulster County received a grade of C for ozone levels in the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2010 report. It was the only county in the Hudson Valley county to receive a passing grade for ozone pollution.

Dutchess County received an F.

The Lung Association determines the air quality of each county by averaging the number of "ozone alert days" over a three-year period. The 2010 report looked at the number of alerts in 2006, 2007 and 2008.

Ozone, or smog, is the most prevalent type of air pollution. It is created by a mix of nitrogen oxide, oxygen and volatile organic compounds during times of high temperatures and sunlight. A respiratory irritant that is corrosive to lung tissue, ozone poses particular health risks to the young, the old and those with compromised respiratory systems.

The association has come up with a color scale for ozone levels, ranging from most to least hazardous as follows: maroon, purple, red, orange, yellow and green. Red is considered unhealthy for everyone; orange is considered unhealthy for people with compromised respiratory systems.

Ulster County had its number of orange alert days for ozone drop from 13 in the 2009 report (which covered the years 2005 through 2007) to six in the 2010 report.

Dutchess County had its number of orange alert days drop from 14 in the 2009 report to 13 in the current report.

"Most of the Hudson Valley received failing grades for ozone," said Michael Sielback, the association's vice president of policy and communications. "That includes every county except for Ulster, which had a failing grade last year and this year has a C."

Nineteen of the 33 counties with monitors, including Dutchess, received failing grades for ozone levels, Sielback said.

Sielback noted that 62 percent of the state's residents live in areas where air pollution endangers their lives.

Suffolk County, on the eastern most tip of Long Island, had the worst air quality in the state. The state does not monitor air quality in Greene County.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets standards for allowable ozone levels.

The current standard of 0.075 parts per million was set in March 2008 after former President George W. Bush personally intervened to block a plan by the EPA to lower the standard to .070 from .080 parts per million.

Now, the EPA is considering a new standard of between .060 and .070 parts per million for allowable concentrations of ground-level ozone.