New York City’s health at risk with 168 dirty air days in 2015

Media Contacts
Heather Leibowitz

Environment New York

New York, NY– Air pollution remains a major threat to our health, according to a new report from Environment New York Research & Policy Center, Our Health at Risk: Why Are Millions of Americans Still Breathing Unhealthy Air? In 2015, people here in New York City experienced 168 unhealthy air pollution days, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.

“Even one day with unhealthy air is too many,” said Heather Leibowitz, Director of Environment New York. “Burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and gas threatens our health. It’s time to shift to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.”

The report comes after President Trump and his Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt just fired half of the Board of Scientific Counselors, a panel that evaluates research done by EPA scientist to help government regulators create the rules that protect clean air, among other things.

Although our air is less polluted than it was 30 years ago, dirty air is still a major health problem. Despite that fact, President Trump is taking an axe to important programs that could help clean up our air. In just the last few months, the Trump Administration has:

  • Instructed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution;
  • Proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, a “get out of jail free card” for polluters;
  • Instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back federal clean cars standards that were supposed to prevent 6 billion metric tons of global warming pollution; and
  • Told the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling.

These actions will have significant health impacts. Blocking the Clean Power Plan alone will slow progress in cleaning our air – leading to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days by 2030.

Our Health at Risk reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Key findings include:

  • People in the Tri-State Area experienced 92 days with elevated smog pollution and 168 days with elevated soot pollution in 2015.
  • The Tri-State Area ranked first in New York State for worst smog pollution in 2015, and 23rd in the entire nation for soot.
  • Across New York, cities including Rochester and Syracuse experienced elevated soot pollution in 2015 on more than 40 days.

Many New Yorkers may be exposed to air pollution even more severe than described here because they live in local pollution “hotspots,” such as near freeways, airports and industrial facilities – facing greater health impacts. For example, people who live near highly traveled roads are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, and at greater risk of death from stroke, lung disease and heart disease.

“There’s no safe level of exposure to smog and particulate pollution,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “Elevated levels of air pollution – even levels the federal government says are safe for most people – hurt our health.”

“And it’s not just soot and smog,” said Leibowitz. “We also have to worry about global warming pollution. Warming is extending the smog season across more of the year, and driving up smog levels on hot days.”

New York’s federal representatives need to stand up to attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act, to maintain the strength of the nation’s Clean Car Standards, and to accelerate our transition to clean energy.

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, we need our federal representatives to stand up for our health,” said Leibowitz.

And at the state level, Governor Andrew Cuomo has an opportunity to help clean the air and protect our health by doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the coming months.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is the best regional clean air and climate protection program in the country. This program limits dangerous pollution from power plants in New York and across the region – helping to slow the warming of our planet. It also fuels investment in clean energy by making polluters pay to pollute.

“To protect our health, we must keep cutting soot, smog and carbon pollution,” said Leibowitz. “Doubling the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will accelerate our transition to renewable energy and help clean our air. The more we cut pollution, the sooner dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”