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Erie, Chautauqua counties receive 'F' in Lung Association's annual 'State of the Air'

American Lung Association

The American Lung Association has released their 2018 “State of the Air” report citing air quality has worsened. It found 9.4 million New Yorkers are breathing unhealthy air.

Chautauqua and Erie counties both received an "F" grade for high ozone days from 2014 to 2016. Ozone can have a major impact on children and older adults with asthma and other lung diseases. One of the reasons things look worse is because 2016 was the second hottest year in recorded history for most of America.  Increased heat often means increased ozone.

American Lung Association Vice President for National Policy Janice Nolen said great progress has been made over the past two decades, but rising seasonal temperatures could pose a problem in the future.

“With ozone it does vary a lot because of the relationship with the heat,” said Nolen. “It also means that we have to do more to clean it up because we are battling that heat that is growing as a result of climate change. It’s sort of a continuing struggle. When you look at the trend charts we’re heading in the right direction but we are not where we need to be yet.”

There is also a problem of pollution coming from other parts of the country and settling in certain areas. American Lung Association Vice President of Communications for the Northeast Michael Seilback said New York is part of a region that’s become known as the tailpipe of the nation.

“New York and Connecticut both filed comments with the EPA asking them to take action against a power plant in Pennsylvania, whose air pollution in the ozone is traveling and settling over our region,” said Seilback.

While a hot 2016 year caused serious ozone problems for the region, something New York got “A” grades for was short-term and year-round particle pollution maintenance.

So what is particle pollution? It’s made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires, and wood-burning devices. Nolen said particle pollution has more lethal parts to it than ozone.

“Particle pollution not only has the premature death health (effects) that we’ve mentioned with ozone,” said Nolen, “it also definitively can cause cardio vascular harm including things like heart attacks and strokes. It also causes lung cancer, which we don’t have any indication yet that ozone would do that.”

Nolen said its size is part of what makes it so dangerous. 

“These particles we are talking about are 1/30th a diameter of a human hair. They can get passed along the normal defense system and lodged deep in the lungs. In fact, some of them are so tiny, they can even get in to the bloodstream and go all over the body. They’re formed of different chemicals,” she said.

American Lung Association representatives credit the Clean Air Act for improvements to handling particle pollution.

“The law has driven improvements in air quality for nearly 50 years,” said Seilback. “Improvements that the ‘State of the Air 2018’ continue to document. The Clean Air Act tools must remain in place, funded, and enforced and the American Lung Association will continue to fight actions of the Trump administration to reverse or reduce protections in place.”

Nolen believes the current administration may be “stacking the deck” to deny scientific evidence.

“The current EPA has taken steps to remove independent science advisors from key advisory committees including the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee and replaced them with people paid by polluting industries,” said Nolen. “Administrator Pruitt has also signaled that the agency will restrict the research it will allow scientists to even consider, proposing to eliminate major scientific research that supports strong, clean air safeguards.”

The report credits climate change for bringing warmer temperatures, making air pollution harder to clean up. New federal policies could dictate what resources will be available to in the future.

Nick Lippa leads our Arts & Culture Coverage, and is also the lead reporter for the station's Mental Health Initiative, profiling the struggles and triumphs of those who battle mental health issues and the related stigma that can come from it.
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