Newsday: Report: Suffolk has state's worst ozone

Newsdaylogo

Published: April 26, 2011
By JENNIFER SMITH  

 

Suffolk County continues to have the worst ozone pollution in the state, earning an "F" grade for the 12th straight year, according to an annual air quality report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association.

But the report found that levels of particulates -- a mix of soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals and other pollutants that can cause respiratory problems -- declined in Nassau and Suffolk counties over the same period.

Nassau was not rated for ozone -- smog's main ingredient -- because it has no ozone monitor. Concentrations are assumed to be similar to neighboring areas, Lung Association officials said.

Report author Janice Nolen attributed some air quality gains to recent regulations that require better filtering equipment at coal-fired power plants and a transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines.

Still, the group warned that recent progress could be undermined by efforts to weaken the federal Clean Air Act or delay the implementation of New York laws such as a retrofitting requirement for state diesel vehicles that was pushed back two years during this year's budget negotiations.

"While we've made great improvements, nearly half our state's residents are still being forced to breathe unhealthy air," said Michael Seilback, vice president of public policy for the Lung Association in New York. "The New York metro area is still among the most polluted in the nation."

Ozone and particulate matter can trigger or exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems. Children, the elderly and people who work outside are often more vulnerable to these effects.

The report analyzed federal and state air quality data gathered between 2007 and 2009. Long Island has ozone detectors in Suffolk, and monitors for particulate pollution in both counties.

This is the 12th year in a row that Suffolk County received an "F" for the number of high ozone days. Ozone levels there reached concentrations deemed unhealthy for sensitive groups on 34 days over the three-year period, with two days where levels were even higher -- unhealthy for the general population. Queens fared slightly better, earning a "D" with eight high ozone days but none considered unhealthy for the general population.

Suffolk's grade for high particle pollution days, however, improved from a "B" in last year's report to an "A" this year, with no days where levels exceeded the threshold for sensitive populations. Nassau was also bumped up from a "C" to a "B" this year, with only two high pollution days -- one less than in the previous measurement period.

Much of Long Island's pollution is generated right here by passenger cars, trucks and construction equipment, according to the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Local power plants and home heating systems also pump out emissions, as do common household chemicals and solvents.

But ozone and particulates also float in from coal-burning power plants in the Midwest and from congested urban areas such as Philadelphia and New Jersey.

"You're really at the end of the tailpipe in Long Island," said Jared Snyder, the DEC's assistant commissioner for air resources.

The Lung Association report rated counties across the country on ozone levels, year-round particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency is in the process of revising air quality laws, which DEC officials expect will become more stringent in the process.

"Assuming they do, we're going to have to achieve more reductions -- levels in Long Island and metro New York that are lower than what we're seeing right now," Snyder said.