Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Monroe County flunks in air quality again

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By Chris Swingle • Staff writer • April 30, 2010

The air quality in Monroe County has flunked for the second year in a row because of high levels of ground ozone, but there were two positive trends. The number of bad-ozone smoggy days improved slightly and Monroe County earned a "B" for short-term particle pollution, or soot, up from a "C," according to the annual State of the Air report released Wednesday.

"Monroe County, like many other areas of the state and country, is trending in the right direction," said Michael Seilback, vice president of public policy and communications at the American Lung Association in New York state. "The air quality seems to be improving."

The report looks at ozone and particle pollution — the most widespread and dangerous air pollutants for people's health — during 2006, 2007 and 2008, using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Wayne County is the only other area county where air quality is measured, and only measures ground ozone. Its ozone pollution worsened from a "D" grade to an "F." Air-monitoring stations in Monroe County measured

17 days of ozone levels that were unhealthy for ozone-sensitive people from 2006 to 2008, down from 19 in the previous report, while Wayne County had 11 such days, up from nine. By comparison, Los Angeles County had 238 days of unhealthy ozone in the new report. The worst level in this state was Suffolk County, at 41 days of unhealthy ozone. Bad ozone days occur only in warm, sunny weather when there's a lot of pollution.

Statewide, only 33 of the 62 counties are monitored, of which 19 received a failing grade. The state Department of Environmental Conservation decides where the EPA monitors are placed. Ground ozone — a gas that constitutes the bulk of smog — can shorten lives. Even low levels of ozone and particle pollution can trigger asthma attacks and hospital treatment for asthma, pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. (Ground ozone is found within six miles of the ground. By contrast, high-altitude ozone protects people from the sun's ultraviolet rays.)

Particle pollution refers to a deadly mix of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols that burrow deep within the lungs and even into the bloodstream, triggering serious problems such as asthma and heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and early death. Nationally, the report finds that cutting emissions from coal-fired power plants and moving toward cleaner diesel fuels and engines have reduced pollution, especially in eastern and Midwestern cities. Monroe County is downwind of Midwest power plants.

But more than half the nation's population still suffers dangerous pollution levels.

To improve the air, the Lung Association recommends that people drive less, use less electricity and support community and government steps to cut air pollution. For more, see www.alany.org.


Who's at risk

Air pollution especially threatens young and old people and people with certain health conditions. People at low socioeconomic levels are also at greater risk, either because they live close to pollution sources, have higher traffic exposure or riskier workplaces or because of lack of access to health care and other protective factors. Individuals can fall in more than one risk category.

Among Monroe County's 732,762 residents, the number of people estimated to be at risk and why:

  • Pediatric asthma: 15,523.
  • Adult asthma: 49,507.
  • Chronic bronchitis: 25,048.
  • Emphysema: 9,949.
  • Cardiovascular disease: 211,570.
  • Diabetes: 49,234.
  • Children under 18: 164,904.
  • Adults 65 and older: 99,525.
  • Poverty: 92,057.