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We have low soot pollution, but smog still hangs over us

Erie County’s air earned a good grade for its low amount of soot pollution but received a barely passing mark for smog pollution in the American Lung Association's annual air quality report released Wednesday.

For the first time since 2014, Erie County received a passing grade from the American Lung Association.

It wasn't the kind of grade you'd want to take home to mom and dad, though.

The organization’s 18th annual State of the Air report assigned Erie County a "D" for smog pollution.

“The Northeast cities, compared to other points, show continued improvement,” said Janice Nolen, the lung association’s assistant vice president for national policy. “We do have some problems, though.”


State of the Air - 2017

State of the Air - 2016


The lung association’s analysis showed nine high-ozone days in Erie County from 2013 through 2015. There were 19 such days over a three-year period in last year's report. Last year, Erie County received a failing grade for ozone.

Ozone, commonly known as smog, is a hazardous gas formed by combustion byproducts being warmed on hot, sunny days.

When it’s inhaled, it has an effect that’s been compared to getting “a sunburn on your lungs.” Exposure can be particularly dangerous for “at-risk groups” like the young and elderly as well as those whose health is already complicated by respiratory, cardiac or other ailments.

Emergency room visits often spike on high ozone days.

“I see the health effects of air pollution first-hand,” Dr. David Hill, a Yale University medical professor who serves as a regional vice-chair for the lung association.

Trends show things are headed in a positive direction – especially in upstate New York where no counties received failing marks for air pollution in this year’s report.

Niagara County recorded a pair of high-ozone days over the same three-year period. It was given a mark of “B” by the lung association.

There were no such days in Albany, Rochester or Syracuse, earning As for Albany, Monroe and Onondaga counties.

“All counties included in the 2017 State of the Air report in the Western New York region showed improvements, except Steuben County, which maintained its "A" grade from last year,” the lung association stated.

The air quality results for soot particle pollution were even better, the report showed.

The Buffalo metro area was among 99 cities nationwide cited as “cleanest” for short-term soot pollution. Others nearby included Albany, Rochester, Syracuse, Elmira and Erie, Pa. All also received passing marks for annual measurements of soot in the air.

Experts attributed the improved air quality to cleaner forms of electrical generation and the retirement of aged diesel engines.

They cautioned, however, that continued gains aren’t a given.

Threats of rollbacks to federal environmental policies and a changing climate could halt the advances made over the last decade.

"Healthy air protections are under attack and must be defended to save lives here and across the country," said Jeff Seyler, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. "Air travels from one state to another, so only federal protections can help protect the air we all breathe."

"The Clean Air Act must remain intact and in force," Nolen said. "This law has driven the improvements in air quality for 47 years."

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