Despite poor nationwide rankings, WNY sees best air pollution levels ever

Apr 19, 2017

Even though Western New York is showing big improvement in this year’s ‘State of the Air’ report from the American Lung Association, the region still ranks poorly in nationwide assessments of air pollution.

Data collected between 2013 and 2015 ranks the Buffalo metro region at 61st in nation for most ozone pollution, and 102nd for year-round particle pollution. Despite poor nationwide rankings, however, the ALA found the region to have the lowest levels of ozone and particle pollution in its history.

ALA Vice President of Public Policy and Communications Michael Seilback said the Western New York faces the impact from locally-based man-made factors.

“In every region in the northeast, it’s a combination. You look at some very local air pollution sources – for example the bridge crossings, we know have very high levels of air pollution. We have local sources like power plants, and then we have the air that’s sort of transported from other sources.”

Those ‘other sources’ of smog and soot can come from areas south and west of the Buffalo-metro region and the greater northeast U.S.

ALA Assistant Vice President of National Policy Janice Nolen said, “Somebody once described the Northeast – and don’t take this offensively – it’s kind of like the tailpipe of the nation in that the pollution that’s generated throughout the middle part of the country – the southwest, the west and the south, and the Midwest – blow, as the wind patterns do, into the northeast.”

Nolen explained the Clean Air Act of 1963 addresses the problem by mandating states recognize their own pollution may impact air quality elsewhere. She said the Trump administration’s intention to limit federal control through the EPA could threaten that management of pollution.

Looking to local results, Erie County saw a total of nine high ozone days over the course of 2013 to 2015, earning it a “D” rating, and no high particle pollution days over the same period, earning it an “A” rating.

Because the data is historical, it’s not an indicator of what day to day air quality will be like in the region’s future. Nolen said that’s why residents need to pay attention to the air quality index forecast on a daily basis. She said residents can also make their own efforts towards cleaner air.

“We need them to make sure that they are taking steps to recognize that air pollution can be a problem and they may contribute to it. That there are things that they can do to reduce their impact on air pollution, like driving less and supporting measures that would clean up the big sources like we’ve talked about. The progress we’ve made has happened because we had people supporting the work of reducing pollution across the country.”

Nolen said there are measures in place that continue to reduce pollution, such as 2015’s cleaner gasoline standards, and changes to the design of ocean-going ships along the east coast that are normally big polluters.

More information on the American Lung Association's State of the Air report for 2017 is available at lung.org/sota.