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Editorial: Air quality report shows we have room to improve

Here’s an issue that should garner strong bipartisan support: clean air.

Just like the water we drink, the air we breathe must be safe and free from pollutants. Seems a simple concept, until political pressure comes to bear.

The latest air quality report by the American Lung Association gave Erie County middling grades. The county earned good marks for its low amount of soot pollution; not so much for a smog, or ozone, pollution.

This is the organization’s 18th annual State of the Air report, and as has been the case, Erie County continues to struggle when it comes to smog, receiving a D grade. That’s not good enough.

As reported in The News, the association found nine high-ozone days in the county from 2013 through 2015. That’s at least a little better than the 19 similar days over a three-year period in last year’s report. That earned the county a failing grade.

The report states that even with improvement “too many people in the United States continue to live where the air is unhealthy for them to breathe.” It praises the Clean Air Act for contributing to reductions in ozone and particle pollution. Ozone, better known as smog, is a hazardous gas formed when combustion byproducts are warmed on hot, sunny days. It is particularly harmful to the young and elderly and those whose health is complicated by respiratory, cardiac or other ailments.

The report issued an urgent call to keep the Clean Air Act intact and enforced.

Air quality in upstate New York showed improvement, with no counties receiving failing marks. Niagara County received a B grade for smog, despite recording a pair of high-ozone days over the three-year period. Every county in this end of the state showed improvement in the 2017 report, except Steuben County. It maintained its exemplary A grade from last year.

More encouraging was the air quality result for soot particle pollution. The Buffalo metro area was among 99 cities nationwide cited as “cleanest” for short-term soot pollution. Experts attribute that development to cleaner forms of electrical generation and the retirement of old diesel engines.

But the report’s authors are not shy about expressing concerns when it comes to the possibility that under the new administration federal environmental policies may wipe out any gains. Erie County is not Los Angeles, but its smog grade is troubling enough. Clean air, like clean water, should not be a partisan issue.

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