Queens gets ‘F’ on ground ozone 1

Queens received a poor score for its ground-level ozone concentration after an air-quality analysis was conducted from 2017 to 2019.

Attorney General Tish James announced on Nov. 23 that she is leading a tri-state coalition in calling for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to tighten controls on air pollution from heavy-duty trucks because of nitrogen oxide emissions.

When NOx combines in the atmosphere with other volatile organic compounds in the presence of heat and sunlight, smog is formed, according to EPA data from James’ office. As climate change leads to warmer temperatures, smog formation will worsen and disproportionately affect the health of the most vulnerable, children, the elderly and those with cardiovascular disease and respiratory illnesses like asthma and Covid-19, she said.

People who live, work or go to school near high-traffic roadways, which tend to be in low-income and minority communities, will experience higher rates of health issues or premature death, according to the AG’s Office.

“The health of millions of New Yorkers — particularly our children, elderly, and most vulnerable — is routinely threatened by smog pollution,” said James. “We know that heavy-duty trucks are one of the largest sources of pollution that cause New York’s serious smog problem.”

Asked how her push for cleaner air relates to her duties as the state’s top prosecutor, James’ office said this is not a legislative action, but it is in her authority to call on the EPA to take action and change its standards.

The AG cited the American Lung Association’s 2021 State of the Air report in making her push for more regulations. The report said that 380,000 children and over 1.6 million adults suffer from asthma in New York, which puts them at high risk from the harmful effects of smog.

Smog can injure the lungs, aggravate asthma and cause nonfatal heart attacks, according to the EPA. NOx emissions are an ozone-depleting substance.

The ozone layer, or Earth’s “sunscreen” as the EPA calls it, protects living things from too much ultraviolet radiation. An overabundance of ultraviolet radiation, a form of electromagnetic radiation, can cause skin cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.

But while the ozone layer high in the atmosphere protects life, too much ozone at the ground-level is damaging.

The American Lung Association, a 115-year-old institution dedicated to defeating lung cancer, championing clean air for all and creating a tobacco-free future, gave Queens an F grade for its ground-level ozone based on an air-quality analysis from 2017 to 2019. Good air quality for the ozone is 54 parts per billion or lower. Moderate air quality is 55 to 70 ppb. The national ambient air quality standard for ground-level ozone is 70 ppb.

A poor Air Quality Index score for ground-level ozone was based on 8-hour days when the air quality was unhealthy for sensitive groups (71 to 85 ppb); unhealthy (86 to 105 ppb); very unhealthy (106 to 200 ppb) or hazardous (200 ppb +) from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. and from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m.

Queens, however, did pass its Particle Pollution Annual report for 2020, according to the American Lung Association.

Particle pollution, also known as particulate matter, is a term for a mixture of solid and liquid droplets suspended in the air. PM becomes a problem when it is in high concentrations, which often occurs near busy roads, campfires or hot humid days with stagnant air. Exposure to high levels of PM can lead to strokes, heart attacks, asthma attacks and premature death.

The national ambient air quality standard for PM is 12 micrograms per cubic meter. expressed as ug/m3. Anything above 12.1 ug/m3 failed. A good PM level is 0 to 12 ug/m3, a moderate PM level is 12.1 to 35.4 ug/m3, a PM level that is unhealthy for sensitive groups is 35.5 to 55.4 ug/m3, an unhealthy PM level is 55.5 to 150.4 ug/m, very unhealthy PM level is 150.5 to 250.4 ug/m3 and hazardous PM levels are greater than 250.5 ug/m3.

Still, when the report data were compiled from 2017 to 2019, there were 36,688 cases of pediatric asthma, 168,232 cases of adult asthma, 103,438 cases of COPD, 1,331 cases of lung cancer, 140,205 cases of cardiovascular disease and at least 655,226 “ever smokers” or people who have smoked at least 100 cigarettes or cigars over their lifetime, in Queens, according to the American Lung Assocation. Of the 2,253,858 people who lived in the borough when the report was done, 1,693,723 were minorities and 245,941 were impoverished or lived below the poverty line.

James wants the EPA to propose stronger standards for emissions from new on-road heavy-duty trucks and engines for model year 2027 and beyond.

“The EPA needs to protect the health of all New Yorkers by putting the brakes on smog-forming pollution from heavy-duty trucks,” said James.

To check air pollution forecasts in your area visit airnow.gov. For tips on how to stay safe from air pollution visit lung.org.

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