WBEN News Radio 930(Buffalo & Niagara Falls) Report: Poor Air Quality in Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua Counties

April 29, 2010

Rachel Kingston Reporting

Buffalo, NY (WBEN) -- The American Lung Association's annual report on air quality is out, and three counties in Western New York have been given failing grades.

The report measures the air quality in each individual county across the country. Grades are given for the levels of two primary pollutants - ozone and particles.

Erie, Niagara and Chautauqua counties all received a grade of "F" for their levels of ozone. But compared to last year, each county improved by one full letter grade, in its particle pollution ranking. Erie County improved to a "D" for particle pollution, while Niagara and Chautauqua counties both improved to "B"s.

"Ozone pollution is formed on those really hot, sunny summer days when the pollution that's in the air gets cooked up and it becomes a gas. And when ozone's breathed in, it actually acts almost like a sunburn on your lungs, it literally burns the tissue inside your lungs. So this is a significant finding," explains Michael Seilback of the American Lung Association of New York.

"Particle pollution - some people call it soot - are these tiny, microscopic particles, less than the width of a human hair. It comes from things like diesel exhaust, power plants, outdoor woodboilers. And because those particles are so small, when breathed in they go right into the bloodstream. They can cause heart attacks... even death."

Seilback attributes the improvement in particle pollution to proactive measures that residents are taking to help improve the air quality in Western New York: "us[ing] more mass transit, be[ing] more aware of our power usage, things like that."

State lawmakers and other authorites are taking steps to clean up the air, too. The New York State Assembly recently passed a bill that would regulate the level of pollutants found in home heating oil. That bill is now on the floor of the State Senate, and Seilback expects it to receive approval there, too.

Seilback also notes that "...just last week the [Department of Environmental Conservation] put out a proposal which would regulate outdoor woodboilers. And we support those regulations, because we think that cleaning up the pollution coming out of outdoor woodboilers is going to have a real effect on our air."

Although there's still a long way to go, Seilback says Western New York is moving in the right direction.

"...Hopefully ,we'll see great improvement in the coming years."

To read the American Lung Association's full "State of the Air" report,
click here.