Air quality in the Capital Region, a majority of the state and most of the nation is improving, according to the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2013 report.
The report measures ozone pollution, known as smog, and particle pollution, known as soot, from 2009, 2010 and 2011 levels compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency. Counties receive a grade based on year-round particle pollution levels and short-term ozone and particle pollution levels.
Schenectady County stood out in the Capital Region, with the least amount of smog. Schenectady, Albany and Saratoga counties improved their smog grades from last year’s report. The biggest smog improvement was in Saratoga County, which went from a D to a B.
“There were no counties in the Capital Region which had failing grades [for ozone pollution],” noted Michael Seilback, vice president of public policy and communications for the American Lung Association of the Northeast.
A copy of the report is available on the Capital Region Scene blog.
The Albany-Schenectady-Amsterdam area was about at the middle of the pack when it came to smog levels in metropolitan areas measured for 2013. This was an improvement from 2012, however.
Seilback said the Capital Region’s improvements were in keeping with positive trends seen around the country, attributing it partially to power plant cleanups, cleaner diesel engines, cleaner gasoline, less reliance on coal power and an increase in natural gas use.
“All of those sources are contributing,” Seilback said.
There was no single factor in determining the levels, he stressed, highlighting variations in reporting that can stem from topography, local weather and where an air monitor is located. Also, the Capital Region’s results can also be affected by far-off considerations, like power plants in the Midwest.
Despite some positive signs, including an acknowledgement by the American Lung Association that New York’s air is better than it was 14 years ago, when the reports started, they note that more than 4.4 million people in the state have failing air quality.
It is also hard to tell exactly how good or bad the air is in New York because there are more than 20 counties that don’t monitor smog or soot and more than that only measure one. Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties don’t measure either, and Saratoga and Schenectady counties don’t measure soot.
The monitoring is administered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Their media office didn’t respond Tuesday to questions about the location of air quality monitors.
Seilback said the lack of monitors all over the state is a problem.
“New Yorkers need to know if the air they’re breathing is healthy or not,” he said.
Part of the challenge in maintaining air quality monitors are the financial constraints of recent years.
Investing in clean air, Seilback said, can pay off because of health benefits. Dirty air increases chances of developing asthma, heart attacks, cancer and premature death. He noted that the average hospital cost for a person on Medicaid suffering an asthma attack is $13,000.
“There is a very real cost to the effect of having unhealthy air,” he said.