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North Country gets good grades for air quality (update)

April 27, 2012
By CHRIS MORRIS - Staff Writer ( , Adirondack Daily Enterprise

Essex County ranks among the best in the nation when it comes to pollution particles in the air, according to a report issued by the American Lung Association.

Meanwhile, the nationwide annual report shows air is getting cleaner in several counties in northern New York.

The State of the Air 2012 report, issued by the American Lung Association, grades counties on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's color-coded Air Quality Index, developed to alert the public to unhealthy air conditions.

"These improvements in air quality are to be applauded because cleaner air saves lives," Jeff Seyler, president and CEO of the American Lung Association in the Northeast, said in a press release.

"But make no mistake, air pollution in our communities continues to be a major threat that cuts lives short, routinely sends people to the hospital and makes it hard to breathe," Seyler added. "We not only need to defend the protections in the Clean Air Act that are responsible for the progress we've made, we need to fight for tighter standards that will ensure further progress and will lead to improved lung health and more lives saved."


Fact Box

High-ozone days:D (up from a F last year)
Short-term particle pollution:A (no unhealthy days)
High-ozone days:B (up from a C last year)
Short-term particle pollution:Data not collected for 2011



The report uses data, gathered by 2,513 air monitoring machines, on ozone and particle pollution, which the Lung Association refers to as the two most common types of air pollution. Counties are then graded for ozone as well as short- and long-term particle pollution. Short-term measures the number of days when particle pollution spikes, and long-term measures the average.

The Lung Association identifies how many days per year a county registers on a color-coded air quality scale. The scale goes as follows:

-Orange, which means unhealthy air quality for sensitive groups

-Red, which means unhealthy air quality for the general population

-Purple, which means very unhealthy air quality for the general population.


Local results


Essex County is tied for fourth in the nation on annual particle pollution and is among the cleanest counties in the nation for short-term particle pollution. Of the 17 New York counties where particle pollution is listed, Essex fared the best.

Essex County is not so good for ozone, but it's getting better. Its overall ozone grade improved from an F to a D since 2011 - the first passing grade for the county since 1996, when the Lung Association's online record of it starts. The report shows the county had nine orange days for ozone during the period covered in 2012 monitoring, compared with 18 days in the orange in last year's report.

Franklin County saw its ozone grade improve from a C to a B, with two orange days. Its ozone got failing grades as recently as the mid-2000s but has improved dramatically.

Hamilton County was similar; its ozone also got a B, with one orange day, after failing in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Particle pollution was not measured in Franklin or Hamilton counties.

The State of the Air report online has no records for other North Country counties such as Clinton, Warren, Lewis or Washington. St. Lawrence County appears on the list, but its particle data is incomplete and its ozone was not measured.


Attributed to clean-air rules


John Sheehan, spokesman for the Adirondack Council, said the high grades for North Country counties are a "triumph" of federal Clean Air Act amendments dating back to 1990. He said power companies in states to the west of New York have made big cuts to harmful emissions because of new cross-state pollution rules.

"This is something that took decades of lobbying Congress and the EPA before it happened," Sheehan said. "The people of the Adirondacks played a big role."

Sheehan said North Country counties didn't generate pollution problems on their own.

"There was never enough cars or industry to cause the air to be unhealthy," he said. "It was entirely the fault of pollutants that were transported by prevailing winds from other parts of the country. When the wind is blowing out of the south, the pollution was from New York City, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. When the wind is blowing out of the west, it was from coal-burning power plants in the Ohio Valley."

Sheehan said he believes air quality will continue to improve in northern New York.


State wants to monitor


Meanwhile, the state Department of Environmental Conservation recently launched a Community Air Screen Program aimed at monitoring air quality. The program is funded by a $170,000 EPA grant and allows local groups to take air samples and look for potential problems.

"The Community Air Screen Program will help us understand air quality concerns at the community level," DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a prepared statement. "This program focuses on local-scale sampling and empowers environmentally conscious residents to get involved in improving the air quality in their communities."

DEC will accept applications to participate in the program until May 24. More information can be found online at or by calling 518-402-8044.


Contact Chris Morris at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or



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