Empire State News Network: 'State of the Air' report details air quality in New York

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ALBANY - The American Lung Association's State of the Air 2010 report finds that over  12 million New Yorkers – more than 62 percent of the state's residents -- live in counties where unhealthy air threatens their lives and health.  This year, 19 of the 33 counties in New York state with air quality monitors received failing grades.  Nevertheless, the report also shows that efforts underway to clean up air pollution in the state are making a difference.

"State of the Air 2010 is encouraging because we can see that the steps we've taken, to reduce emissions from sources including power plants and diesel engines, are improving air quality," said Scott T. Santarella, President and CEO of the American Lung Association in New York.  "At the same time, it's obvious that we need to do much more to clean our air.  From the North Fork to Niagara Falls, far too many New Yorkers are still breathing in failing air that puts their health at risk."

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."

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.