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Erie County’s air quality is improving, but much work remains to be done

Erie County is earning higher marks when it comes to the air we breathe and, for that, everyone should be grateful. Not to mention, a bit self-congratulatory.

As reported, for the second consecutive year the county’s air quality received across-the-board passing grades from the American Lung Association, which recently released its 2013 State of the Air report.

While just missing the highest mark, Erie County received an overall grade of “B” for both high ozone, or “smog,” days and short-term air pollution based on a complex Air Quality Index formula.

Saving the details for those who wish to dig in, suffice it to say that the county isn’t doing too badly on most days. Given the growing concern over air quality in some parts of the world, it is comforting to know that here in Erie County we can breathe a little easier.

Nationally, air quality is improving also. The improvement is thanks to stricter state and federal environmental regulations on air quality, including the Clean Air Act, along with better public awareness of air pollution. Now, more than ever, people are thinking about their own carbon footprint. Using public transportation, bicycling and walking are all good alternatives to driving vehicles burning gasoline, and provide physical activity in addition to being good for the environment.

Niagara County did not do as well on the report, scoring a “C” rating by the Lung Association. Chautauqua County did even worse, earning an “F” as a result of 10 reported “Code Orange” ozone days – air that is unhealthy for children, active adults and people with respiratory disease, from 2009 to 2011. Erie County experienced two such days over the same period.

Chautauqua County has never received a passing grade in the 14 years the association has compiled the report. The coal-burning power plant on the shores of Lake Erie in Dunkirk was cited by a Lung Association vice president as contributing to the poor air. While some coal-burning power plants are enacting plans to become cleaner, ones with outdated technology – even if used less – have a significant impact on the surrounding area. More needs to be done to bring outdated plants up to today’s standards.

This country’s carbon emissions have fallen perhaps the most of any industrialized country. Tighter fuel economy standards for vehicles add up, along with cleaner fuels for vehicles and heating and stricter regulations on open burning.

Despite some good news, nothing less than an “A” should be acceptable. Governments at all levels must keep working to make the air healthier, and citizens should remain on guard against attempts to weaken clean air regulations.