Hudson Valley smog clearing as ozone levels improve

Traffic on Interstate 287 in White Plains. (Nov. Traffic on Interstate 287 in White Plains. (Nov. 21, 2012) Photo Credit: Elizabeth Daza

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Air quality in the Hudson Valley has improved with the region's worst offenders -- Westchester and Putnam counties -- upgrading from F's to D's on the latest report card released by the American Lung Association.

The two counties are now "trending in the right direction," said Michael Seilback, association spokesman. But, he added, "If my child were to come home with a D grade, I would certainly make them do more homework." To keep improving the smog situation, the region must continue cutting down on industrial pollution and using cleaner fuels, he said.

The latest "State of the Air" report, which covers a three-year period from 2009 to 2011, marks the first time in the 14-year history of the association's report cards that no Hudson Valley county has been written up with an F. But two of the four "red" days registering unhealthy zone levels around the state occurred in the Hudson Valley from 2009 to 2011.

Westchester, which had been the third-dirtiest county in the state for ozone in the last report, saw its ozone level improve the most.

A "D" grade is welcome news as Westchester moves forward with plans to encourage solar energy use around the county and bring natural gas refueling to Westchester County Airport by the end of this year, said Phil Oliva, spokesman for Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.

"We are certainly pleased with the improvement during the Astorino administration, but certainly there is more to be done and we're trying to do it," Oliva added.

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Orange improved its grade from a D to a C. Rockland earned a C. Suffolk County on Long Island continued to have the worst ozone pollution in the state.

Although no counties in the state earned A's for ozone in the previous report, six earned A's in this report, though none was from the Hudson Valley.

Smog is a widespread pollutant caused by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from cars, trucks and other sources. Inhaling ozone can irritate the lungs and cause immediate health problems such as wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death, according to the association.

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The report also gave all counties passing grades for their levels of particle pollution, which is a deadly microscopic mix of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols that can cause coughing and sneezing. Particulates that burrow into the lungs can lead to problems such as asthma and heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and even early death.

Cleaning up major air pollution will benefit from increased use of natural gas and compliance with the federal Clean Air Act for industrial emission levels, Seilback said.

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