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Albany-Schenectady metro area scores well for ozone pollution in State of the Air report

The American Lung Association

The "State of the Air" has considerably improved in the cities of Albany and Schenectady, according to new data presented in the American Lung Association's 2024 report.

The report names the Albany-Schenectady, New York metro area among the cleanest in the nation for ozone pollution, for the second year in a row. ALA's Director of Advocacy Trevor Summerfield says this year's findings include data gathered during the pandemic.

"We report this every single year," said Summerfield. "And in the 25 years that the American Lung Association has been doing our State of the Air report, we have seen incredible improvement in the nation's air quality. Unfortunately, there are still 131 million people that still live in places with unhealthy levels of air pollution, still have some work to do. We've also seen that across the state as well, in places like the New York City metro area, where they are ranked as the 13th worst polluted metro area in the country, as well as out west, in Buffalo."

 The Albany-Schenectady metro area receives an "A" grade for zero days of ozone "smog," the air pollutant affecting the largest number of people in the United States. The area earned a "C" grade and ranks 64th worst in the nation for short-term particle pollution. It ranked 162nd worst in the nation for year-round average level of particle pollution, an improvement from last year’s ranking of 150th worst.

The “State of the Air” report found that nationally, more than 131 million people live in an area that received a failing grade for at least one measure of air pollution, and roughly 44 million people live in areas with failing grades for all three measures.

Summerfield is encouraged by the trend toward more positive grades overall in New York and neighboring states. Vermont also gets an "A" for smog, "B" for particle pollution, with Massachusetts earning high marks across 13 out of 14 counties.

"We've seen, you know, increased air quality monitoring here in New York, and also the adoption of medium and heavy truck rules in Vermont, and New York, Massachusetts. Not in Connecticut, unfortunately," Summerfield said. 

David Hill is a pulmonologist with Waterbury Pulmonary Associates in Connecticut and serves on the Leadership Board of the American Lung Association.

"So in the greater New York area, particularly Fairfield County, Connecticut, just south of where I live and work, we received an "F" grade for ozone pollution this year. That's because we have a high traffic corridor and we receive a lot of air pollution from the Midwestern states via the jet stream. And both particulate and ozone pollution are associated with significant effects on health, including causing lung disease, worsening lung disease in people who already have it and increasing risk for heart attack stroke, and lung cancer," said Hill. 

Hill says air pollution is particularly devastating for those living in more vulnerable areas, particularly poor populations and people of color, making pollution an environmental justice issue as well as a health concern.

Summerfield says last year's report and summer wildfire smoke coming down from Canada both helped raise public interest in climate initiatives.

"There's a ton of stuff coming out of this, that's very positive," Summerfield said. "And we hear it all the time from legislators. And really more important to me, the people that are living their everyday lives on that are seeing these outcomes from this, that again, we're just pushing the ball forward, if you will, in making progress.”

Summerfield says the move toward electrification of vehicle fleets will likely improve air quality.

"The adoption of the truck rules in particular, medium and heavy-duty trucks, we know that they contribute a majority of the air pollution throughout the state. And again, in communities of color, in particular, they're just burdened by this pollution, and they bear the disproportionate burden of it. So we're continually working on that to solve this. And I think again, looking hopefully, towards the future, I think we're working in the right direction," said Summerfield.

The full report is here.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.