The American Lung Association has given Suffolk County a failing grade for poor air quality, ranking it among the worst air in the state because of an excessive number of days with high levels of ozone, the key gaseous component of smog.
The lung association tagged Suffolk with an F grade in its annual State of the Air Report, which assesses air quality throughout New York and elsewhere in the nation. Nassau County was not assessed because there are no air quality monitors within its borders. Suffolk has two, one in Babylon and another in Riverhead, lung association officials said Tuesday.
“In this report we look at two types of air pollution: one is ozone and the other is particulates,” said Janice E. Nolen, assistant vice president for national policy for the lung association, and lead author of the report.
Nolen defined particulates as supersmall “bits” that are part of the airstream. These deadly flecks are about one-thirtieth the diameter of a human hair and are also called particle pollution. They emerge from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These fine particles are capable of breaching the body’s defenses to invade the bloodstream causing cardiovascular and pulmonary harm, she said.
Suffolk received a grade of A for low levels of this type of contaminant, the report showed.
The county, however, had 23 high ozone days, according to figures in the report. Ozone also was a problem last year for the county when the American Lung Association gave Suffolk an F.
Scientists have divided ozone into two types — good and bad. Stratospheric ozone, which naturally shields the planet from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays, is the good form. The bad is ground-level ozone created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen — NOx molecules — and volatile organic compounds, known as VOC. The reactions between these two occur in the presence of sunlight.
“Ozone can literally kill you,” Nolen said, referring to reams of scientific data that have shown how the pollutant can worsen asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Ozone also underlies heart attacks and premature death, she and other experts said during a news briefing Tuesday morning.
Suffolk’s population of about 1.49 million, the report revealed, has a significant number of high-risk individuals, including about 29,000 children with asthma; more than 112,000 adults with asthma; 63,000 adults with COPD and 875 people with lung cancer.
The American Lung Association’s 2018 report covers air quality in 2014, 2015 and 2016 and marks the 19th year the organization has analyzed the concentration of pollutants in the environment. Lung association officials said 2016 was one of the hottest years on record and blamed climate change for the excess heat, which helped drive rising levels of ozone.
Michael Seilback, an association vice president in Hauppauge, said with reports consistently giving Suffolk grades of F for ozone pollution, it was time that measures were put in place to solve the problem.
“If my kids came home with an F or a D on a report card we would agree that more work would have to be done,” Seilback said.
He also bemoaned proposed rollbacks on federal clean air standards by the current Environmental Protection Agency.