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Bad Ozone In Borough’s Air

But Study Shows Trend Of Overall Improvement

A recent air quality report shows Queens is a mixed-bag- quality is generally improving, though some pollutant levels are worse than past years.

The State of the Air report, which was released by the American Lung Association (ALA), grades counties on the levels of ozone and particle pollution in the air over a three-year period.

Queens County received a failing grade for how many days the amount of ozone exceeded safe levels.

Ozone is a chemical created when volatile organic compounds are heated and released into the air, according to Michael Seilback, vice president of public policy and com- munications for the American Lung Association of the Northeast.

He said, when inhaled, ozone causes harmful chemical reactions in the lungs, likening it to getting a sun burn.

According to the report, there were 10 days during the study’s three-year period in which ozone levels were high enough to harm “sensi- tive individuals” or the general population.

Sensitive individuals include the elderly, children and those with respiratory problems like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

“Queens has the dubious distinction of being the only county in New York to receive a worse [ozone] grade than last year,” Seilback said. “The bottom line for this report shows queens residents are forced to breath unhealthy levels of air pollution on far too many days”

Manhattan and the Bronx fared slightly better, grabbing “D” ratings. There was no data collected in Brooklyn, the study shows.

Still, the data suggests things are getting better in Queens-even with a small backslide in ozone levels. There were 12 fewer days rated “unhealthy for sensitive populations” or worse than there were in 1996, the study shows.

Ozone levels in Queens hit a peak in 1997 before dropping drastically over the next decade. After reaching a low of less than four unhealthy days per year in 2007, the data has slowly trended upward to just above four days this year.

Seilback said that heavily polluted industrial areas like the Newtown Creek, which was named an EPA Superfund cleanup site in 2011, can affect ozone levels, but the majority of the pollution the ALA’s study measured comes from current practices, not past transgressions.

He cited Queens’ power plants and large number of drivers as contributing factors.

Boro better in other categories

The ALA’s study also measured the number of days particulate pollution exceeded healthy levels and the amount of particulate pollution present in the atmosphere on an annual basis.

Queens scored a “B” with only two days that were considered harmful for sensitive populations.

Particle pollutants are tiny pieces of material that become airborne, such as smoke or soot. They cause microscopic abrasions in lungs and can also lead to respiratory problems, Seilback said.

Like ozone pollution, particle pollution has generally been on the decline. Queens residents experienced 6.5 fewer days where particle pollution was at unhealthy levels this year than they did in 2000.

Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island also earned “B” grades, while the Bronx received a “C,” the report noted.

Queens received a passing grade on the level of particle pollution in its air on an annual basis. The annual level of particle pollutants has dropped by 3.5 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) since 2002, and air is tending to get cleaner, trends show. The annual level is currently just below 9.5µg/m3-a passing grade is 12µg/m3 or below-and levels have declined by about 0.5µg/m3 per year since 2002.

“Though Queens failed the ozone test, it’s a healthier Queens than it was 14 years ago when the studies began,” Seilback said.

Mayoral hopefuls on cleaner air

During a mayoral forum on environmental sustainability held Apr. 22, some candidates for the city’s top office weighed in on air pollution.

Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio told the forum that retro-fitting public housing developments could help ease the levels of childhood asthma-a condition that disproportionally affects low-income individuals.

“Focusing on public housing developments creates environmental progress and an act of economic justice,” he said, calling for “aggressive financing mechanisms, backed up in some cases by our public pension system, to continue to regularly retrofit buildings.”

Mayoral hopeful George McDonald added that improved pest control and education could help prevent roach-related asthma.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn called for more mass transit, including expanding bus and “clean” ferry service, in order to reduce the number of cars on the road.

Quinn said she supports phasing out dirtier fuels and expanding use of biodesiel.

The city should also commit to a solid waste management plan that uses marine transfer stations and takes trucks off the road, she added.

Summer airflow study

This summer, New York City subways will get an air quality test of their own.

The NYPD and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory will conduct a city-wide study measuring air flow in the metropolitan area’s underground.

The study aims to better understand the risks posed by airborne contaminants including smoke; pathogens; fumes; and chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) weapons, according to a press release from the NYPD.

“The NYPD works for the best but plans for the worst when it comes to potentially catastrophic attacks such as ones employing radiological contaminants or weaponized anthrax,” said Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly. “This field study with Brookhaven’s outstanding expertise will help prepare and safeguard the city’s population in the event of an actual attack.”

Researchers will deploy 200 sampling devices during the study. Researchers will disperse low concentrations of harmless gases known as perfluorocarbons at select subway and street-level locations over three, non-consecutive days in July, according to officials.

Weather conditions will determine which days are selected for the tests, and will be announced to the public a day in advance, it was noted.

The research will be conducted during daylight hours in parts of the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, Staten Island and in Manhattan from 59th Street to the Battery, according to the NYPD.

Perfluorocarbon tracer gases (PFTs) present no health or environmental hazard-they are non-toxic, inert, odorless and invisible, it was noted.

They have been used in airflow studies since the 1980s, including a 2005 study conducted in Manhattan. PFTs also are used in medical applications including eye surgeries and artificial breathing systems.

The study is also expected to help police and other agencies decide where to best locate CBR detection equipment. Results from the study will help authorities refine evacuation or other responses in the event of an emergency, it was noted.

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