NY gets mixed marks on ozone pollution in Lung Association’s ‘State of the Air’ report

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control

The 2020 ‘State of the Air’ Report from the American Lung Association was released on April 21 and presented mixed rankings for high ozone days and particle pollution across New York state.

Recently, COVID-19 has forced global shutdowns to prevent the spread. In doing so, there has been a drop in air pollution, but new research linked the increased death rate among coronavirus patients with long-term exposure to particle pollution.

“For many Americans, the COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated just how important lung health really is,”  said Dr. Payel Gupta, a New York City-based allergist and volunteer medical spokesperson for American Lung Association. “There is no shortcut, no alternative to breathing.  We must do more to protect our lungs from anything that puts our ability to breathe at risk,  be it a virus, tobacco smoke, or air pollution.”

The 2020 report found that the New York City metro area recorded its fewest bad ozone days and lowest ranking yet for pollution. Despite the change, New York, Queens and Westchester all received an F grade for high ozone days. The New York City metro area landed in 12th place for the worst polluted ozone.

Here is how other New York state metro areas ranked: 

  • Albany-Schenectady tied for 106th most polluted for ozone, a slightly better ranking than last year’s 99th, with largely unchanged levels of ozone.  
  • Buffalo-Cheektowaga-Olean tied for 74th most polluted for ozone, improved from 55th last year, with less unhealthy days.  
  • Elmira-Corning was ranked 135th most polluted, improved from 123rd last year (tied with Ithaca-Cortland). 
  • Ithaca-Cortland was ranked 122nd this year, one place worse than 123rd last year.  
  • Rochester-Batavia-Seneca Falls tied for 74th most polluted for ozone, a ranking worse than last year’s 86th, thanks to its third consecutive year with more unhealthy days.   
  • Syracuse-Auburn saw its ranking drop from 123rd to 106th most polluted for ozone this year due to more unhealthy days.  
  • Utica-Rome ranked 106th this year, improved from 99th last year.

“New York State is a mixed bag for ozone, with some areas improving, and others worsening,”  said American Lung Association’s National Assistant Vice President for State Public Policy, Michael Seilback. “These grades and rankings should serve as a reminder that while air quality has greatly improved in the last fifty years, New York’s air quality is still among the worst in the nation, and there is a lot of work to do.”

Ozone pollution can trigger asthma and be harmful to those with other lung diseases as well.

On the other hand, New York state particle pollution is lower than it was in the past, thanks to the “cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines,” Seilback said.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, a federal law that controls air pollution on a national level. 

“We all have the right to breathe clean, healthy air. The 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act serves as a critical reminder that Americans breathe healthier air today because of this landmark law,” Seilback said. 

“At the same time, this year’s report shows that we must stand up for clean air – especially to safeguard our most vulnerable community members. Our leaders, both here in New York State and at the federal level, must take immediate, significant action to ward off climate change and other threats to the quality of the air we all breathe.”