The American Lung Association’s 2012 State of the Air report is out, and it contains some positive news for New Yorkers. According to the findings, the city’s air pollution is at its lowest levels since the reports began 13 years ago – but there’s still significant room for improvement. Overall, the city received C and D grades, with the Bronx declared to be the “dirtiest county in the metro region for high particle pollution,” while Staten Island received a failing grade for its ozone levels.
The improvement in overall air quality comes as a result of “pollution being controlled from power plants, from diesel trucks, from cars and other on-road traffic,” Michael Seilback of the American Lung Association told AM New York, “While we may have a lot of traffic going through the five boroughs, those sources are cleaner.” Indeed, the improvements seen in NYC reflect an overall improvement in air quality in the US. CNN reports that the State of the Air found that between “2001 and 2010, ozone levels dropped 13%, year-round particle pollution declined 24% and short-term particle pollution 28% thanks to the Clean Air Act.”
The report examines ozone concentration and levels of particle pollution in metropolitan areas across the country. Ozone smog is typically formed from an interaction between the gases released from the burning of fossil fuels or evaporation of solvents meeting with heat or sunlight, and particle pollution includes things “like dust, metals, smoke, exhaust and acids, like nitrates and sulfates,” with smaller particles, less than 10 microns in diameter, bypassing natural defenses such as sneezing, and instead getting trapped in lungs, or even passing through the lungs and into the blood stream.
There’s no doubt that cleaner air saves lives, reducing instances of respiratory illness, heart-attacks, cancer and other illnesses, while extending overall live expectancy, and the reduced emissions that go hand in hand with that are great news for the environment overall. Where the report notes progress in NYC air quality, it provides significant encouragement for the PlaNYC initiative, launched by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2007. The initiative includes an array of goals for improving air quality, emissions and other environmental factors by 2030, and has already enjoyed some significant success. 29 green building laws have been passed since 2010, Greenhouse Gas emissions are down 12 percent since 2005 and the introduction of pedestrian plazas has led to a significant drop in car related air pollution.
But as the question lingers as to whether or not the next mayor will continue to embrace the PlaNYC initiative, it’s worth remembering that while this progress is significant, the result is still in the C and D grade range. There’s a great deal more room for improvement.
Lead Image (cc) ericskiff on Flickr