A jogger goes for a run at Sunken Meadow State...

A jogger goes for a run at Sunken Meadow State Park. (Aug. 2, 2009) Credit: Michael Nagle

Working or exercising outside on Long Island could be hazardous to your health, according to a new report on air pollution in the state.

Suffolk remains the dirtiest county in the state for ozone pollution or smog, although it had the best improvement to date in short-term particle pollution, the American Lung Association in New York says in the report.

And Nassau likely has similar ozone levels, though there are no federal monitoring sites there because the federal Environmental Protection Agency doesn't have enough money to place equipment in every county.

The association did offer some good news in its 11th annual State of the Air report. Suffolk improved in the category of "short-term particle" pollution, meaning spikes in particle pollution for brief periods: It received a B, up from last year's C. Nassau received a C, the same as last year. Back in 2006, Suffolk got a B for short-term particle pollution, but standards were more lenient. Particle pollution is a mix of ash, soot, diesel exhaust, chemicals, metals and aerosols that can trigger asthma and heart attacks, strokes, lung cancer and early death.

"While in many parts of the state we can see reduced emissions from sources including power plants and diesel engines, Long Island still has some significant air quality improvements left to make," said the state association's president, Scott Santarella.

The report rates air quality based on three EPA measurements: short-term particle; year-round particle; and ozone pollution. It relies on a three-year average of the most current readings, in this case 2006 through 2008, to eliminate year-to-year fluctuations. Ozone is formed when sunlight reacts with vapors emitted when vehicles, power plants and other sources burn fuel. Breathing ozone causes asthma attacks and even premature death.

Michael Seilback, the organization's vice president for public policy, said "it's probable that Nassau would have similar failing air quality" to Suffolk because its two neighboring counties do. He said Suffolk leads the state in ozone pollution due to a combination of geography, with Suffolk being the easternmost county with prevailing winds blowing west to east, old power plants in Nassau and Suffolk, and heavy traffic.

"Sixty-two percent of the state's residents are breathing unhealthy levels of air pollution from Suffolk to Niagara Falls," Seilback said. Nineteen of the 33 counties where air quality monitors are situated received failing grades.

Carrie Meek Gallagher, Suffolk's commissioner of environment and energy, said "unfortunately there is not much we can do to reduce [high levels of] ozone alert days in Suffolk because there is no chance that everyone will stop driving." But she said the county between 2004 and 2010 invested $17 million in energy efficiency measures including upgrading technology at the Bergen Point sewage treatment plant to reduce annual greenhouse emissions. It also approved a plan to install solar carports that will generate about 17 megawatts of power at seven parking lots.

The full report is available at alany.org.

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