The newly released American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2016” report finds that air quality generally improved across the nation with lower levels of particle pollution and ozone. But the report also shows that in Westchester County, we are not doing well. The report finds that we are being exposed not only to unhealthy levels of ozone, earning a grade of “F,” but that data on particle pollution isn’t even collected in our area. Without any particle monitors collecting data, it cannot be measured locally.
The state and the Environmental Protection Agency decide where to place particle monitors. Somehow they decided not to place any in Westchester. According to the Lung Association, this isn’t unusual. Most U.S. counties don’t have monitors. In fact, the report notes: “Monitors are located in less than 1,000 of the 3,068 counties in the United States.”
Ozone levels in Westchester can be measured, however. High ozone levels can cause serious immediate breathing problems and in the long term can shorten life. Given the levels in Westchester, a very large number of people living here are at risk. According to the report, the largest Westchester group at risk are more than 222,000 children and teens under 18 who live here. The next largest group at risk are seniors, numbering about 152,000.
The report notes that communities can do a lot to reduce air pollution at the local level. The report recommends the following:
- Drive less. Combine trips, walk, bike, carpool or vanpool, and use buses, subways or other alternatives to driving. Vehicle emissions are a major source of air pollution. Support community plans that provide ways to get around that don’t require a car, such as more sidewalks, bike trails and transit systems.
- Use less electricity.Turn out the lights and use energy-efficient appliances. Generating electricity is one of the biggest sources of pollution, particularly in the eastern United States.
- Don’t burn wood or trash. Burning firewood and trash is among the largest sources of particle pollution in many parts of the country. If you must use a fireplace or stove for heat, convert your woodstove to natural gas, which has far fewer polluting emissions. Compost and recycle as much as possible and dispose of other waste properly; don’t burn it. Support efforts in your community to ban outdoor burning of construction and yard wastes. Avoid the use of outdoor hydronic heaters, also called outdoor wood boilers, which are frequently much more polluting than woodstoves.
- Make sure your local school system requires clean school buses, which includes replacing or retrofitting old school buses with filters and other equipment to reduce emissions. Make sure your local schools don’t idle their buses, a step that can immediately reduce emissions.
Image courtesy American Lung Association