Lower Hudson Journal News: Hudson Valley flunks air-quality tests, despite improvements

LoHudMasthead

Apr. 28, 2011  

Written by Greg Clary

When it comes to breathing clean air in the Hudson Valley, we're still flunking — but we're flunking better.

"The bottom line is that we're seeing cleaner air," said Michael Seilback, a senior official with the American Lung Association in New York  City. "Seven or eight years ago, we were seeing almost double the number of high-pollution days."

However, nearly half of New York's 19 million residents live where air pollution endangers their lives and health, according to the association's "State of the Air 2011" report released Wednesday.

In this latest analysis of government data, 16 of the state's 34 counties with air-quality monitors got failing grades, compared with 19 out of 33 counties a year ago.

Locally, the trend may be better, but basic problems remain:

• Westchester was the dirtiest county in the region for ozone, the second-dirtiest in the state.

• Putnam, Dutchess and Orange each received an F for ozone pollution, with Dutchess one of only two counties in the state to experience more unhealthy ozone days than the previous year.

• Rockland was included in the "State of the Air" report for the first year, but there was insufficient data to give the county a grade.

• Ulster was again the only Hudson Valley county to receive a passing grade for ozone pollution and is among the least polluted counties for ozone in the state.

George Thurston, an air-quality researcher with New York University's  laboratories in Sterling Forest, said there should be more progress in the coming years as lawsuits force Midwestern power plants to curb smokestack pollutants traveling to the Northeast.

"Now the federal government is doing its job," Thurston said, noting that individual states had been carrying on that legal battle on a plant-by-plant basis until recently.

"We're seeing more of a vigorous federal enforcement," he said.

Thurston said Rockland, Putnam and Westchester are part of a channel-like effect that brings pollutants up the valley of the Hudson River from New York City , making their pollution more like the urban center than other subur

Much of the other counties' pollution comes with large air masses moving east from the Midwest, he said.

Dr. Allen J. Dozor, chief of pediatric pulmonology at Maria Fareri Children's Hospital at Westchester Medical Center, said one of the best things that government has done is tightening regulations on tailpipe emissions.

"Our cars are better, more efficient," Dozor said. "I do think we've made progress."

Dozor said the data on asthma show that it is still "astronomically high and affecting virtually every family," but since the 1960s may finally be leveling off.

"There's a glimmer of hope there," he said.