ALBANY AND SARATOGA COUNTIES — The air quality over Albany and Saratoga counties has worsened, according to a the American Lung Association’s recently released 2018 “State of the Air” report.
In the report card, which measured air pollution from 2014 through 2016, Albany County went from an A grade in the 2017 report to a B, and Saratoga County went from a B to a C.
The Lung Association determines grades based on the average days a county experiences ozone and short-term particle pollution.
In the 2017 report -- covering 2013 to 2015 -- Saratoga County had one "orange day," defined as a day when unhealthy levels of ozone and short-term particle pollution for sensitive groups is evident. Sensitive groups include those with adult and pediatric asthma, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
In the 2018 report, Saratoga County had four orange days.
Albany County went from zero days of unhealthy levels of ozone concentration and short-term particle pollution in the 2017 report to two days in the lastest report.
Saratoga and Albany counties are two of 16 New York counties that experienced declining air quality grades.
Basil Seggos, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said that, while he couldn't comment on the report's methodology, New York has some of the strictest air-quality regulations in the country, and pollutants that cause smog, including nitrogen oxides, are well controlled within the state.
"New York has among the lowest per-capita emissions of nitrogen oxides in the country," he said. "Despite New York’s extensive efforts to combat smog pollution, some areas of the state have struggled to meet the federal health standard for smog due to pollution from upwind sources."
Seggos said the Environmental Protection Agency's announcement earlier this month to weaken vehicle emission standards will worsen pollution nationwide.
"It will lead to higher ozone levels directly and indirectly, as it contributes to global warming that increases ozone levels," he said. "New York has and will continue to use the stringent California car standards to ensure that we are doing all that we can to reduce noxious air pollution."
Jeff Seyler, chief division officer of the American Lung Association, said in a prepared statement that unhealthy levels of ozone across the state put residents at risk for premature death and other health problems, including asthma attacks.
"The Northeast suffers because much of the country’s air pollution ends up settling here, earning the moniker ‘the tailpipe of the nation,’” he said.
Michael Seilback, vice president of public policy and communications for the American Lung Association of the Northeast Region, said in a prepared statement that particle pollution from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices is harmful.
"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,” he said. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped, thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”
Seilback said the organization is calling on the EPA and politicians to reduce pollution.
“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," he said. "We also call on the EPA 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."
“We can and should do more to save lives,” Seilback said.