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American Lung Association State of the Air 2014 report finds 8.8 million New Yorkers live in counties with unhealthy air

ALBANY - The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2014” report released today shows that most counties in New York State reduced or maintained year-round particle pollution (soot) levels compared to the 2013 report.  This is in keeping with a trend seen across the nation of lower particle pollution levels.  At the same time there were 51 additional unhealthy orange days of high ozone (smog) where the air is unhealthy for sensitive groups.  There was one additional red day of high ozone where the air is unhealthy for everyone.  Ozone levels varied from county to county.  Ten counties in the state received worse grades for ozone than in 2013 while four counties saw their grades improve.  While no county improved its letter grade for short-term particle pollution, some experienced fewer unhealthy days.  Statewide there were five fewer unhealthy particle pollution days recorded than during the period covered by the 2013 report.

“The air in New York is certainly cleaner than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 15 years ago but we must act to protect this progress and build upon it if we are going to save lives and improve lung health,” said Michael Seilback, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association of the Northeast.  “Our leaders must prioritize investments in clean, green policies instead of on old, dirty polluting technologies which create unhealthy air for New Yorkers to breathe. We still have far too many people living in counties with failing grades and far too many people struggling to breathe. Stronger health standards for pollutants and cleanup sources of pollution are sorely needed to protect both our air quality and our health.”

Nine counties received F’s for ozone (Bronx, Chautauqua, Jefferson, New York, Queens, Rockland, Richmond, Suffolk and Westchester) compared with five in the 2013 report.  At the same time, five counties, Franklin, Hamilton, Herkimer, Oneida, Saratoga and Steuben, received A’s for ozone with zero days with unhealthy levels of ozone.  The New York-Newark-Bridgeport (NY-NJ-CT-PA) metro area suffered worse ozone pollution in 2010-2012, reversing a gradually decreasing trend since 2005-2007. More unhealthy ozone days came due in part to warmer summers, a nationwide trend. The metro area’s ranking worsened to tied for 12th from tied for 17th place for most polluted in the nation.  Similarly other New York State metro areas experienced increased ozone and saw their rankings worsen.  Out of the 220 metros with ozone data, Buffalo-Cheektowaga was ranked tied for 102nd most polluted, Rochester-Batavia was 155th most polluted, and Albany-Schenectady was tied for 125th most polluted.  Meanwhile one metro area, Utica-Rome, placed on the list of cleanest cities for ozone pollution with zero unhealthy days.

Trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at www.stateoftheair.org.

Ozone (smog) is the most widespread air pollutant, created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources. When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs, almost like bad sunburn. It can cause immediate health problems that continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death. 

All counties in New York received passing grades for both short-term and annual particle pollution and only two counties, New York and Chautauqua, had slightly worse annual levels than in the 2013 report. While there were no letter grade improvements for short-term particle pollution, the Bronx experienced two fewer orange days while Kings and New York each experienced one less orange day. Meanwhile, Chautauqua, Essex, Niagara, Onondaga, Steuben and Suffolk earned A’s with zero days with unhealthy levels of particle pollution. 

The New York-Newark-Bridgeport (NY-NJ-CT-PA) metro area, which has now expanded to include Northhampton, PA, was ranked tied for 16th most polluted city for short-term particle pollution and ranked tied for 13th most polluted for annual particle pollution. In last year’s report, the metro area was ranked 55th and 45th most polluted, respectively. Albany-Schenectady ranked tied for 161st most polluted for year-round particles, its lowest levels ever, and was tied 96th most polluted for short-term particles. Buffalo-Cheektowaga ranked tied for 112th most polluted for year-round particles, its lowest level ever, and tied for 96th most polluted for short-term particles. The Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls metro area also ranked tied for 96th most polluted for short-term particles. There was insufficient data to obtain a grade for annual particle pollution in the metro area.

Particle pollution, called fine particulate matter or PM 2.5, is a deadly cocktail of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols that can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end. The body's natural defenses, coughing and sneezing, fail to keep these microscopic particles from burrowing deep within the lungs, triggering serious problems such as asthma and heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and even early death. Much like ozone pollution is likened to sunburn on the lungs,” exposure to particle pollution has been compared to rubbing sandpaper on the lungs.

“While we can celebrate the continued reduction of year-round particle pollution here in New York and across the nation thanks to cleaner diesel fleets and cleaner power plants it’s clear that we’re going to need to do even more to reduce ozone pollution which is a tremendous health threat to all of us but especially to people with lung disease,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association.  “Warmer temperatures create a breeding ground for ozone pollution and climate change will make it even more challenging to protect human health. We call on Congress to not only uphold the Clean Air Act, but to ensure that the EPA and states have adequate funding to monitor and protect the public from air pollution. We simply can’t ignore the new threats that rising temperatures present.”  

The American Lung Association calls for several steps to improve the air everyone breathes:

  • Clean up power plants.  The EPA needs to reduce carbon pollution.  Ozone and particle pollution that blows across state lines must be controlled. In the next year, the Administration has pledged to set standards for carbon pollution from new and existing power plants.
  • Strengthen the outdated ozone standards. The EPA needs to set a strong, health-based standard to limit ozone pollution. Strong standards will drive the needed cleanup of ozone across the nation.
  • Clean up new wood-burning devices. The EPA needs to issue strong standards to clean up new wood stoves, outdoor wood boilers and other residential wood-burning devices.
  • Fund the work to provide healthy air. Congress needs to adequately fund the work of the EPA and the states to monitor and protect the nation from air pollution.
  • Protect the Clean Air Act. Congress needs to ensure that the protections under the Clean Air Act remain strong and enforced.


The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2014 report is an annual, national air quality “report card.” The 2014 report—the 15th annual release—uses the most recent quality assured air pollution data, compiled by the EPA, in 2010, 2011, and 2012.  Data comes from the official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone (smog) and particle pollution (PM 2.5, also known as soot). The report grades counties and ranks cities and counties based on their scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels.