For the first time in its seven-year history, an annual analysis of air pollution data revealed that a monitoring site in Western New York recorded a smog level worse than the New York City area.
According to the American Lung Association of New York State's annual State of the Air report, the monitoring station in Dunkirk had the worst weighted average for ozone of any station in the state.
Dunkirk's weighted average -- achieved through a formula calculating how many days federal ozone levels were exceeded, and by how much -- was 14.5, while the weighted average for the station at Amherst's Audubon Golf Course was third in the state, at 13.8. Jefferson County, which includes Watertown, was second, at 14.3.
Data from two Manhattan monitoring sites was not available because one was shut down and the other was in the World Trade Center. But the report's sponsors said that, traditionally, the worst numbers in the New York City area come from Staten Island, which posted a weighted average of 12.3.
"We've seen the raw numbers over the years," said Peter Iwanowicz, director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of New York State. "The monitors in Amherst and Dunkirk record more (high levels of ozone) than the one on Staten Island."
The report covers the three most recent years for which data was available (2001-2003) and issues letter grades for counties with monitoring sites.
As it has been for the past four reports, that grade was "F" for Erie, Chautauqua and Niagara counties.
High levels of ozone smog, formed when exhaust from cars, trucks, industrial sources and power plants cooks in the atmosphere on hot, sunny days, can be dangerous for people with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, the elderly and the young.
The report states that out of a population of 1.29 million people in Erie, Niagara and Chautauqua counties, about 497,000 are younger than 18 or older than 65, and about 159,000 have asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema.
"When (smog) happens in the summer, these people . . . can't go outside without running the risk of it impacting their health," said Stanton H. Hudson Jr., the Buffalo resident who is president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of New York State.
For the second year, the report also examined data for fine particulate matter, and the grades for the three area counties were unchanged. Erie received a "D," while Chautauqua and Niagara counties each got a "C."
"The science has been pretty clear," Iwanowicz said. "People with underlying heart disease are at a significant risk for a second heart attack when fine particle levels are high."
The association called for more cuts in emissions from coal-fired power plants, but also said individuals can help reduce pollution levels by refueling after dark on hot, sunny days, driving less and driving more fuel-efficient vehicles.