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New York State Air Quality Worsened Finds 2018 ‘State of the Air’ Report

9.4 million New York State residents’ health remains at risk from unhealthy air, according to American Lung Association’s 19th annual air quality report

Trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at Lung.org/sota

(April 18, 2018) - ALBANY, N.Y.

For more information please contact:

Jennifer Solomon
[email protected]
(516) 680-8927

The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found that 9.4 million New Yorkers are breathing unhealthy air, living in counties that earned failing grades for high ozone days. Sixteen of the 27 reporting counties saw falling grades – and metro areas throughout the state experienced a greater amount of unhealthy air days due to ozone, keeping with a trend seen across the nation.

“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone throughout New York State put our residents at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and greater difficulty breathing for those living with a lung disease like COPD.  The Northeast suffers because much of the country’s air pollution ends up settling here, earning the moniker ‘the tailpipe of the nation.’” said Jeff Seyler, Chief Division Officer of American Lung Association. “Across the United States, the report found that ozone pollution worsened significant in the 2014-16 period and that more than four in 10 Americans – 133.9 million – live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution, where their health is at risk.”

The trends reported in this year’s report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2014-2016, reflect the ongoing challenges to reduce each pollutant in the changing political and outdoor climate.

“We can and should do more to save lives,” said Michael Seilback, Vice President, Public Policy & Communications for the American Lung Association, Northeast Region. “The Lung Association in New York calls on our members of Congress to defend the Clean Air Act, currently under threat from those who want to weaken this effective public health law. We also call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement and enforce the law instead of trying to roll back major safeguards like the Clean Power Plan and cleaner cars, both steps that help us fight climate change and reduce air pollution.” 

Each year the “State of the Air” provides a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution, also known as smog, and particle pollution, also called soot. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can increase the risk of premature death and other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.  New York counties were commonly found to have high ozone as a problem more often than particle pollution, which remained within the national standards.

“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Seilback. “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room. Ozone can even shorten life itself.”

This report documents how warmer temperatures brought by climate change make ozone more likely to form and harder to clean up. This year’s report showed that ozone levels increased in most cities nationwide, in large part due to warmer temperatures in 2016, the second hottest year on record in the U.S. Over the past decades, ozone pollution has decreased nationwide because the nation has cleaned up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles.

The 2018 report also measured short-term and year-round particle pollution. Year-round particle pollution was highest in Erie, Kings County (Brooklyn) and New York (Manhattan), but still met the national standard.  It found that throughout the state, previously low levels of short term particle pollution were maintained. The metro areas around Albany, Syracuse, Rochester and Buffalo were all found to rank among the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.

“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal,” said Seilback. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”
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Regional Results:
New York- Newark Metro Area (includes Bronx, Dutchess, Kings, Nassau, New York, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester counties, along with select counties in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut, as per the 2010 census):
The New York City metro area continued to rank on one of the most polluted cities lists, for ozone (#10).   It no longer ranked in the top 25 worst cities for year-round particle pollution, landing at spot 26. While the metro area saw more high ozone days this year, it improved for moth short-term and year-round particle pollution. 
The New York City metro area includes all of the five counties in the state (Suffolk, Bronx, Richmond (Staten Island) Queens, and Westchester) to record continued failing grades for ozone. Staten Island has regained the dubious distinction of having the worst ozone levels in New York State. 


Long Island (Suffolk County):
Suffolk County remained among the worst counties for ozone with 23 high ozone days with a weighted average of 7.7.  While its grade remained an F, it did show a slight improvement from last year’s report which showed that Suffolk residents experienced 24 high ozone giving it a weighted average of 8.7. 
Suffolk, with an estimated population of 1.49 million people, also includes a high number of at-risk residents, including more 29,000 children with pediatric asthma, more than 112,000 adults with asthma, 63,000 adults with COPD and 875 people with lung cancer. Additional factors for people whose health is at greater risk because of bad air quality include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and poverty.  More Suffolk residents struggle with these health issues than in the majority of other counties measured.
“Once again Suffolk County has some of the worst ozone pollution in New York State,” said Seilback, a Suffolk County resident.  “We must continue to see efforts on the local, state and federal level to combat this deadly problem.”

Hudson Valley (Westchester, Dutchess, Orange, Putnam and Rockland Counties):
The Hudson Valley contains some of the most polluted air in all of New York State.  Putnam and Dutchess counties moved from C grades to Ds due to more high ozone days, while Westchester Orange and Rockland maintained their grades (F, C, D respectively) on ozone from the 2017 report.
Together these five counties represent more than 43,000 children with pediatric asthma, 152,000 adults with asthma, 85,000 adults with COPD and 1,200 people with lung cancer. Additional factors for people whose health is at greater risk because of bad air quality include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and poverty. 

Capital Region (Albany-Schenectady metro area; Albany and Saratoga counties):
The Albany-Schenectady metro area fell to 94th most polluted for ozone from 136 last year.  Both Albany and Saratoga Counties fell back one grade, from an A to a B in Albany and from a B to a C in Saratoga.   Its year round particle pollution measured slightly better this year, at 7.1 µg/m3, from 7.4 µg/m3 in 2013-2015, making 2014-2016 its lowest ever recorded level.
The city of Albany was one of four New York cities to rank as one of the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution, with no unhealthy days, making this year another best ever measurement.
“Upstate New York fell back this year on ozone, which is a reflection of the effects of climate change and 2016 being one of the hottest years on record.   This report is a reminder of all the work we have yet to do to protect New Yorkers from emissions and unhealthy air.” said Kristina Wieneke, Director of Public Policy in New York for the American Lung Association.

Western New York (Buffalo-Cheektowaga, Syracuse-Auburn, and Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls, Elmira-Corning metro areas, and Chautauqua, Erie, Monroe, Niagara, Steuben, Wayne counties):
Western New York metro areas displayed similar set back on ozone, with Rochester, Syracuse and Buffalo all ranking higher on the most polluted lists.  
Erie County increased to 3.7 days of unhealthy ozone on average, an F in 2014-2016. In the 2017 report, the metro had recorded its fewest ever unhealthy days on average, 3.0 days, earning a D. Even with this increase, the metro area is still improved over the 6.5 days in the 2016 report, and much better than the worst period, 2001-2003, when the city had 34.2 days on average.
Both Onondaga County and Oswego County had more unhealthy ozone days in 2014-2016, increasing to 0.7 days on average (a B), from the 0.3 days (a B) in Oswego County in 2013-2015, which had been the best ever.

Albany-Schenectady, Buffalo-Cheektowaga, Elmira-Corning, and Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls were all named among the cleanest for short-term particle pollution, all registering 0 unhealthy days.

While the report examined data from 2014-2016, this 19th annual report provides online information on air pollution trends back to the first report covering 1996-1998.
Learn more about New York State rankings, as well as air quality across the state and the nation, in the 2018 “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota.

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About the American Lung Association

The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.

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