Queens Tribune: Queens Air Quality Improves: Report

By Jessica Ablamsky

Air quality in New York City is improving, but still fails some pollution standards, according to a recent report from the American Lung Association in New York.

The State of the Air is an annual air quality report card that measures ozone and particle pollution, based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. The State of the Air 2010 is based on data collected from 2006-2008.

During that time, Queens passed the annual measure for high particle pollution days, but failed the 24-hour measure.

That means annual levels of particle pollution meet current standards, but there are still too many days where short-term spikes threaten health, said Kathleen O’Neill, a spokesperson for the American Lung Association in New York.

Queens had four fewer high particle pollution days in 2006-2008 than in 2005-2007. There were five fewer high ozone days.

Compliance with air quality standards is measured using data collected over three years, to prevent a situation where weather anomalies or other factors create air pollution.

“This difference shows that air quality is improving,” O’Neill said. “This trend is consistent with what we are seeing across the state and illustrates that our efforts to reduce pollution are making a difference. We hope this trend will continue next year.”

Ozone is formed when sunlight reacts with vapors emitted when cars, factories, power plants and other sources burn fuel. Particle pollution is a deadly cocktail of aerosols, ash, chemicals, diesel exhaust, metals and soot that can spike dangerously for hours or weeks. Breathing ozone and air with high particle levels irritates the respiratory tract and causes health problems like asthma attacks, chest pain, coughing and even premature death. At-risk groups include kids and seniors, as well as people with asthma, cardiovascular disease, chronic bronchitis, diabetes and emphysema.

Other findings from the report include:
• The New York City metropolitan area is tied for 16th on the top 25 list of U.S. cities most polluted by ozone. In 2009, the metro area tied for 17th place.

• New York Counties and Queens are tied for second dirtiest nationwidefor short-term particle pollution.

• New York City tied for 18th worst for short-term particle pollution.

• The New York City metropolitan area dropped off the 25 most polluted cities list for year-round particle pollution.

New York City officials are trying to address the problem.

PlaNYC is a master plan to prepare the City for a million new residents by 2030 and manage impacts on various resources, including air quality. Its goals include more trees, reduced transportation emissions, retiring aging power plants and switching to cleaner fuels for heating.

“Individuals can take steps to improve air quality by driving less, using mass transit whenever possible and using less electricity,” said Kathleen O’Neill, a spokesman for the American Lung Association in New York.