Lung Association gives several upstate counties failing grades
on air quality—but are its standards too tough?
air pollution, and places like Los Angeles, Houston and New
York City come to mind. But a recent report by the American
Lung Association gave several upstate New York counties the
same failing grade as the above-named metropolises, which
are notorious for poor air quality.
The Clean Air Report, published May 1, grades air quality
across the nation on a county-by-county basis. The ALA studies
air-quality and ozone-saturation data from the Environmental
Protection Agency. A county receives an F if its ozone saturation
exceeds the EPA standard for three days or more during “ozone
season” (May to September), when higher temperatures and more
intense solar rays react with pollutants in the air and form
In upstate New York, Albany, Duchess, Essex, and Saratoga
counties all received this failing grade.
is] a highly reactive form of oxygen and a corrosive agent,”
said Pete Iwanowicz, director of environmental health at the
ALA of New York state. “It’s certainly not something you’d
want to be breathing in in high quantities.”
According to the ALA, areas where the pollutants are highly
concentrated can be damaging to children, the elderly, and
especially those with respiratory diseases such as asthma.
Major causes of the area’s pollution, Iwanowicz said, are
vehicle exhaust from local traffic and smog from Midwestern
The surprise of the group is rural Essex County, which straddles
Lake Champlain and the Adirondacks in northeastern New York.
But Iwanowicz compared it to a nonsmoking section in a smoky
restaurant, saying that Essex County residents breathe from
“the same polluted air mass that wafts in from the Midwestern
Critics of the report accuse the ALA of using unnecessarily
stringent grading standards. “The report vastly exaggerates
air-pollution levels,” said Joel Schwartz, senior fellow at
the Reason Public Policy Institute in California, a California
think tank promoting free-market capitalism and automobile-friendly
averaged 3.3 days per year, exceeding [the EPA standard],
and [the ALA has] given Albany the same F grade as the worst
location in Kern county [Calif.], which is Arvin, which had
80 exceedences,” Schwartz said.
Shwartz also contended that the ALA is ignoring signs of air-pollution
reduction, trends he said will only increase in the years
are ways to make [air pollution] decline more rapidly that
are much less expensive and much less intrusive than the kinds
of measures that the lung association are pushing for,” Schwartz
said. For example, he said, the RPPI favors government incentives
to get America’s worst-polluting vehicles off the road.
The report also has been criticized by the EPA and state regulators,
according to Iwanowicz. Officials from Albany and Essex counties,
as well as regional officers of the state Department of Environmental
Conservation, did not return calls for comment.
Currently, the ALA of New York state is lobbying the Legislature
for two bills: one that would eliminate the sales tax on ultra-clean
and zero-emission vehicles, and another that would require
the production and use of cleaner fuels.
[the Clean Air Report] indicates that there is a problem,”
said Ann Reynolds, Air and Energy program director at Environmental
Advocates of New York.
According to Reynolds, the report gives an important measure
of air- pollution health risks. “The ALA is looking at a very
important snapshot that has an effect on human health,” she
Bob Kelly, regional air modeler for the EPA, works with state
governments to bring their air quality up to EPA standards.
He said that air pollution is at least leveling off and probably
ALA has] used air-quality data that are collected from our
states. The ALA takes the numbers the states provide and they
do their interpretation of it . . . ” Kelly said. “They’re
entitled to present the data as they think is appropriate.
We give the data and we let the public decide.”
Regarding criticism from the EPA and state regulators, Iwanowicz
said, “They think we grade too hard, but as we always tell
them: We’re talking about kids’ lung tissue, so we have to
the smokestack: South End residents protest the proposed
asphalt plant. Photo
by John Whipple
A proposed asphalt plant
causes controversy in Albany—and prompts charges of environmental
By Shawn Stone
drums and shouting slogans, protestors outside Giffen Elementary
School let it be known that an asphalt plant was not welcome
in Albany’s South End. The protest preceded a May 7 New York
state Department of Environmental Conservation-sponsored public
hearing which drew close to 100 people to the school. Tri-City
Aggregates, an Altamont-based firm, wants to build a 480-square-foot
asphalt facility on their property at 850 S. Pearl St.—and
dozens of people voiced their opposition.
Though representatives for Tri-City Aggregates have said that
the asphalt plant will pose no significant environmental hazard,
residents remain unconvinced. Speaker after speaker came out
against the proposal. Among the interested parties were health-care
advocates, representatives from neighborhood institutions
(including Doane Stuart School and Kenwood Covent of the Sacred
Heart), elected officials, and dozens of local residents.
Dr. Nancy De Korp, representing the American Lung Association,
detailed the possible negative effects of the asphalt plant
on the region’s air quality. The chief concerns, according
to De Korp, are fine particle pollution, and the combination
of diesel exhaust from delivery trucks—which will make a projected
100 trips to and from the plant each day—and emissions from
the plant’s two 40-foot smokestacks. These will contribute
to the creation of ozone, explained De Korp. High levels of
ozone, a major component of smog, have been directly related
to respiratory problems ranging from coughing to asthma.
percent of hospital admissions in the summer can be attributed
to smog,” De Korp said.
Noting that Albany county had just earned an “F” rating in
the ALA’s annual State of the Air report, she asserted that
“air quality in the Capital District is on the decline,” and
asked that the DEC perform a coordinated, full review of the
Dominick Calsolaro, 1st Ward alderman, drew a picture of a
low-income, high-minority population neighborhood being dumped
on yet again. This position was reiterated by a number of
local clergy, as well as Rodney Davis of the Arbor Hill Environmental
Justice Corp. Davis—who spoke at the meeting at the invitation
of Albany County Legislator Lucille McKnight—referred to previous
environmentally questionable projects suggested for the South
End, including a defeated proposal for a waste-transfer station.
Davis called the attempt to cite the asphalt plant on North
Pearl Street a case of déjà vu.
Nell Stokes Holmes, a decades-long resident of the neighborhood
whose home is only 100 feet from the proposed plant, said
that “where I live there are 27 families on my street (including)
many young children and seniors. . . . The traffic and smell
is already tremendous; what will be the longterm effects of
A number of speakers directed their harshest criticism at
the DEC for not initially scheduling any public hearings and
rubber-stamping Tri-City Aggregates’ application. On Feb.
26, the DEC first announced that they had received the permit
application. At that time, no public hearing was planned and
the deadline for written public comments was March 28; in
fact, the DEC determined that the plant would not “have a
significant impact on the environment.” After receiving complaints
from local officials, the DEC scheduled the hearing and extended
the comment period to Friday, May 9.
With the DEC public comment period now ended, activists have
turned their attention to Mayor Jerry Jennings and the city
of Albany’s planning board. A coalition of concerned citizens
held a press conference in front of City Hall on Wednesday,
May 14. The planning board will review the proposal on Thursday,
May 15 at 9 AM.
No matter what the city decides, opponents urge the DEC to
make a full review of the proposal. As resident Daniel Van
Riper argued, “there is no compelling reason to site the plant
in the South End.”
Is Like Every Day
Legislators and liquor-store
owners wrangle over proposed amendment to New York’s “blue
By Travis Durfee
Monday, Scott Reilly was looking ahead to another long day.
Reilly, who operates Wheeler’s Liquor Store at 1145 Central
Ave. in Albany, planned on working a full 12 hours on Monday
even though his partner—and only other worker—was scheduled
for the afternoon shift.
partner, he’s just not with it—he’s not responsible,” Reilly
said. “But with part-time help, it’s tough. First you’ve got
to hope that they show up and then hope that they only steal
from you a little.”
Reilly said he operates his liquor store the old-fashioned
way: He has little help in a no-frills store to keep his costs
low, and he lets the prices draw the customers in.
Reilly said he worked 12-hour days the previous Thursday,
Friday and Saturday, and was grateful when Sunday rolled around.
On Sunday, he had to shut his doors, as per New York state
law, and so he had a day of rest. But he fears that proposed
changes to the state’s law regarding the sale of alcohol may
force him to change his routine.
In the hopes of generating additional tax revenue in the face
of New York state’s fiscal crisis, legislators included a
proposal in their budget that would change the state law regulating
the sale of liquor and wine. Under the state’s “blue laws,”
liquor stores currently are not allowed to sell wine or liquor
on Sunday, and beer cannot be sold from midnight Saturday
until noon Sunday.
The proposed change would allow liquor storeowners to sell
their goods from noon to 9 PM on Sundays, but in exchange
they would have to choose another day during the week when
they’d close their doors.
That decision to regulate liquor stores into closing one day
a week is an attempt to appease small storeowners, like Reilly,
who feel that they shouldn’t be forced to compete by staying
open a seventh day.
According to Assemblyman Ronald Canastrari (D-Cohoes), since
Sunday is a busy shopping day for many, allowing liquor-store
owners to open their doors that day could add $26 million
to $30 million in new tax revenues in addition to what is
already collected from the sale of alcohol.
is the second-largest retail day in the nation, and it will
make a difference,” said Canastrari, who has long sponsored
a bill calling for repeal of the restriction on Sunday sales.
“The attractiveness of Sunday sales was additional revenue,
but [legislators] were also cognizant that storeowners didn’t
want to have their stores open seven days a week for religious
and other reasons.”
But according to Craig Allen, owner of All Star Wine &
Spirits in Latham Farms, one of those “other reasons” is a
lack of willingness to work.
just amazes me when I see all these other businesses complaining
about not wanting to be open seven days,” Allen said. “Do
you know any other industry where the retailers fight for
more and more restriction on their own industry?”
Allen, who operates his store with 11 full-time employees
and two part-timers, has long lobbied the state’s elected
officials to remove the Sunday sales restrictions. Allen said
he expects to be one of the few storeowners to take advantage
of the change should the governor sign it into law. Allen’s
rationale: Since he pays taxes seven days a week, he should
be able to open his doors for business seven days a week,
like most other businesses in the state.
guess as a compromise it is better than nothing,” said Allen.
“The main thing is that we are breaking this prohibition that
Sunday isn’t a sales day. But I’d like to be open seven days—I’d
like to have the choice at least.”
Should the governor sign the change into law, it will be evaluated
after five years to see if it was worthwhile.
suppose the public’s response will gauge the change’s success,”
said Canastrari. “Will there be an outcry against it? Will
the revenues justify the experiment?”
Reilly said he would not take advantage of the change unless
competition from other businesses forces him to, and he raises
another point: Heavy drinkers could use a day of rest as well.
don’t think the politicians are thinking about the guys who
drink a magnum of vodka a day,” Reilly said. “Those guys need
a day of rest, but nobody wants to think about that. But this
isn’t about what’s better for the community—it’s about who
gives the most money to the state.”