New Report: New York City and Long Island Rank in the Top Twenty Smoggiest Large Metropolitan Areas in the Country

Environment New York

Today Environment New York released a new report showing that both New York City and Long Island are among the top twenty smoggiest large metropolitan areas in the country.  Smog is a harmful air pollutant that leads to asthma attacks and exacerbates respiratory illnesses, especially among children and the elderly.  The new report, Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011, also found that there were 14 days in 2010 in New York City and 13 days in Long Island when smog levels exceeding the national health standard. Residents of New York City were also exposed to a “red-alert” day, when the air quality was so poor that anyone could experience adverse health effects.  This summer, residents in the New York, Newark and Bridgeport area have already been alerted to unhealthy air on 27 days.

“New Yorkers deserve clean air.  But on far too many days, people in the New York City and Long Island areas are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” said Eric Whalen, Environment New York’s Field Organizer.  “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”

The new report ranks cities in New York and across the country for the number of days when the air was unhealthy to breathe due to smog pollution last year and this summer, and includes new data showing that because of outdated air quality standards, New Yorkers have been unknowingly exposed dangerous air quality. The research shows that on 14 additional days last year, residents in New York City were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe, but because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels.

Peggy Shepard the executive director of West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT), Dr. Paul Ehrlich the incoming president of the New York Allergy and Asthma Society, and New York State Assemblymembers Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan) and Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) joined Environment New York in releasing today’s report outside of New York City Hall.

Smog is one of the most harmful air pollutants, and is also one of the most pervasive. Smog is formed when pollution from cars, power plants, and industrial facilities reacts with other pollutants in the presence of sunlight.  Smog is of particular concern in the summer months when warmer temperatures lead to the build-up of higher concentrations of smog pollution.

On days with elevated levels of smog pollution, children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illness suffer the most. Children who grow up in areas with high levels of smog may develop diminished lung capacity, putting them at greater risk of lung disease later in life. Additionally, children exposed to smog in the womb can experience lower birth weight and growth retardation.  Even among healthy adults, repeated exposure to smog pollution over time permanently damages lung tissues, decreases the ability to breathe normally, exacerbates chronic diseases like asthma, and can even cause premature death.

Dr. Paul Ehrlich, incoming president of the New York Allergy and Asthma Society commented on the impact of smog pollution, saying “A poor respiratory environment for children may lead to recurrent infections, loss of school days and hospitalization.”

“New York City has some of the country’s highest asthma-related hospitalization and mortality rates among children and young adults — with African American and Latino patients accounting for more than 80 percent of the cases,” said Peggy Shepard, executive director of West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT). “State and federal governments should accelerate the transition away from fossil fuels and toward a clean energy economy.”

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency is required to set a national standard for smog pollution according to the latest science on air quality and public health.  However, the current standard was set at a level that EPA’s own board of independent scientists agree is not adequately protective of public health.  The Obama administration considered updating the standard this year to protect public health, but the president decided earlier this month to abandon this effort until 2013.  Environment New York and prominent public health groups expressed deep disappointment with his decision.

“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath,” said Whalen. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road.  New York’s kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better.”

“New York City is well known for its innovation, and we pride ourselves on being ahead of the curve on a number of issues, including environmental issues.  That’s why it is distressing that New York City was ranked one of the top five smoggiest metropolitan areas in the country in 2011,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal (D/WF-Manhattan).  “Our children deserve better, and frankly, we can and must do better to ensure the safety of the air we breathe.  We have a responsibility to reduce our dependence on dirty, dangerous and expensive fossil fuels and move to clean, safe and renewable sources of energy, such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power,” said Assemblymember Rosenthal.

Environment New York called on the president to protect the health of New York’s children and seniors, and to establish an updated standard for smog pollution that is based on the science. A strong standard could save up to 12,000 lives and prevent up to 58,000 asthma attacks each year.  At this time, polluters and their allies in the House of Representatives are threatening to make the problem even worse by pushing a bill this week—the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401)—to roll back existing smog pollution standards for power plants.

“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” said Whalen.  “President Obama and New York’s members of Congress should stand up for New Yorker’s health and oppose any attacks to the Clean Air Act, including voting against a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives this week that would roll back existing clean air protections for smog and other deadly pollutants.”