520 Environmental Blog (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle): State of our air: So-so but improving


Posted by Steve Orr April 27, 2011

The annual rating of air quality by the American Lung Association is out and the Rochester area, as it usually does, earned a bad grade for ozone concentration. We fared much better in terms of particle pollution.

The good news, if you look at the data, is both forms of pollution, while still a health concern, are trending downward. This is especially the case with particle pollution from coal-burning power plants. As we documented in a story  several months ago, academic research has found that levels of particles in Rochester’s air have fallen markedly with the closure of all but one local coal-burning plant.

The ALA’s State of the Airreport gave Monroe County a grade of “F” for ozone. In the three years considered in the report, 2007 through 2009, Rochester averaged 4.3 days per year with ozone levels that exceeded the national standard. Levels during those days were slightly above the standard, meaning the air was unhealthy for people with pre-existing respiratory problems or other sensitivities to ozone.

Ozone (the major component of ”smog”) is formed by chemical reaction of combustion products. Mostly, it’s born from car and truck exhaust, though emissions from both local and distant coal-burning plants also contribute. In higher concentrations, ozone can cause shortness of breath. It also can trigger respiratory problems, or make them worse, and it contributes to premature death among susceptible populations. The Lung Association explains the health implications here.

Ten of New York’s 62 counties recorded more bad-ozone days than Monroe. The worst was Suffolk County on Long Island, which averaged more than 12 such days each year. (The ALA reported data by county. Here, air quality data is collected at a state Department of Environmental Conservation station near the I-490/I-590 junction in southeast Rochester.) Ozone concentrations are influenced by weather, as sunlight promotes the chemical reaction that yields the unwelcome gas.

 In terms of particle pollution, Monroe’s 0.3 exceedance-days per year ranked it 11th and earned it a “B.” Bronx County was worst, at 4.7 days per year. However, 16 New York counties do not have regular particle monitoring stations and were not included. 

Particle pollution, which comes mainly from coal-burning and diesel-engine exhaust, has many of the same heath effects as ozone; the ALA runs them here.