Rochester Democrat & Chronicle: Clear the air, use a bike

(May 5, 2010)

In case you missed it, our colleague Chris Swingle recently reported that Monroe County was given a failing air-quality grade for excessive ground-level ozone. That pollutant is blamed for exacerbating a variety of respiratory ailments, and is one of this country’s worst enduring environmental problems.

Ground-level ozone is formed with sunlight breaks down nitrogen oxides, which is why high-ozone alerts are most often issued on hot, sunny summer days. Motor-vehicle exhaust and power plant emissions are the source of most of the nitrogen oxides.

Monroe and Wayne counties were given an “F” for ozone by the American Lung Association in its 2010 “State of the Air” report. The worst counties in the state in terms of ozone were in suburban New York City - but oddly, Chautauqua County in the state’s largely rural southwestern corner was right up there with them.

Why Chautauqua? “It’s tough to point to any one specific source,” said the lung association’s Michael Seilback. Chautauqua has two power plants, which probably contribute, and two interstates cut through parts of the county. One other wildcard, though, are pollutants from far-distant sources that can wind up in one particular spot due to weather patterns. “These influences all contribute to the poor air quality that we’re seeing,” he said.

Still, as the American Lung Association pointed out, one of the best ways to bring about reductions in ground-level ozone is to limit the use of cars.

  Easier said than done, you say?

  Maybe it’s not that hard. I was chatting with Ms. Swingle about this, and she mentioned that long-ago friends — a former Rochester couple, Barbara and Jesse Ballenger, who now live in State College, Pennsylvania — have embarked on a personal campaign to log more miles on their bicycles than in their car.

Jesse tracks this on his Facebook page; Chris forwarded me a recent post: “Bikes v. Beast 2010 — the family quest to ride more miles than we drive this year. April stats –Bike miles: 899; car: 878. Year-to-date –> Bike miles: 1987; car: 4830. We turned the corner this month. Now it’s time to really crank it up….”

Jesse told Chris they’re thinking about creating a blog or other more public forum for folks who want to watch their progress. In the meantime, he suggested folks look at PeopleforBikes.org, which encourages people to sign a pledge that they’ll ride instead of drive when they can.

In case you missed it, our colleague Chris Swingle recently reported that Monroe County was given a failing air-quality grade for excessive ground-level ozone. That pollutant is blamed for exacerbating a variety of respiratory ailments, and is one of this country’s worst enduring environmental problems.

Ground-level ozone is formed with sunlight breaks down nitrogen oxides, which is why high-ozone alerts are most often issued on hot, sunny summer days. Motor-vehicle exhaust and power plant emissions are the source of most of the nitrogen oxides.

Monroe and Wayne counties were given an “F” for ozone by the American Lung Association in its 2010 “State of the Air” report. The worst counties in the state in terms of ozone were in suburban New York City - but oddly, Chautauqua County in the state’s largely rural southwestern corner was right up there with them.

Why Chautauqua? “It’s tough to point to any one specific source,” said the lung association’s Michael Seilback. Chautauqua has two power plants, which probably contribute, and two interstates cut through parts of the county. One other wildcard, though, are pollutants from far-distant sources that can wind up in one particular spot due to weather patterns. “These influences all contribute to the poor air quality that we’re seeing,” he said.

Still, as the American Lung Association pointed out, one of the best ways to bring about reductions in ground-level ozone is to limit the use of cars.

Easier said than done, you say?

Maybe it’s not that hard. I was chatting with Ms. Swingle about this, and she mentioned that long-ago friends — a former Rochester couple, Barbara and Jesse Ballenger, who now live in State College, Pennsylvania — have embarked on a personal campaign to log more miles on their bicycles than in their car.

Jesse tracks this on his Facebook page; Chris forwarded me a recent post: “Bikes v. Beast 2010 — the family quest to ride more miles than we drive this year. April stats –Bike miles: 899; car: 878. Year-to-date –> Bike miles: 1987; car: 4830. We turned the corner this month. Now it’s time to really crank it up….”

Jesse told Chris they’re thinking about creating a blog or other more public forum for folks who want to watch their progress. In the meantime, he suggested folks look at PeopleforBikes.org, which encourages people to sign a pledge that they’ll ride instead of drive when they can.