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DEC issues air quality advisory through Wednesday

By Joanne Beck

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued an Air Quality Health Advisory for several areas of the state, including Western New York counties  of Genesee, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara, Orleans, and Wyoming.

The DEC and Department of Health issues these advisories when meteorologists predict levels of pollution, either ozone or fine particulate matter, are expected to exceed an Air Quality Index (AQI) value of 100. The AQI was created as an easy way to correlate levels of different pollutants to one scale, with a higher AQI value indicating a greater health concern. 

Wildfires spreading throughout eastern Canada combined with steady winds have meant an infiltration of related pollutants in the northeastern United States.

This advisory will remain in effect through midnight Wednesday, and is a warning to folks that exposure can cause short-term health effects such as irritation to the eyes, nose, and throat, coughing, sneezing, runny nose, and shortness of breath. 

Exposure to elevated levels of fine particulate matter can also worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. People with heart or breathing problems, and children and the elderly may be particularly sensitive to particulate matter (PM) 2.5.

When outdoor levels are elevated, going indoors may reduce exposure. If there are significant indoor sources of PM 2.5 (tobacco, candle or incense smoke, or fumes from cooking) levels inside may not be lower than outside. Some ways to reduce exposure are to minimize outdoor and indoor sources and avoid strenuous activities in areas where fine particle concentrations are high.

Fine particulate matter consists of tiny solid particles or liquid droplets in the air that are 2.5 microns or less in diameter. PM 2.5 can be made of many different types of particles and often come from processes that involve combustion (e.g. vehicle exhaust, power plants, and fires) and from chemical reactions in the atmosphere.

New Yorkers are urged to take the following energy saving and pollution-reducing steps:

  1. use mass transit instead of driving, as automobile emissions account for about 60 percent of pollution in our cities. During the current COVID-19 pandemic, people are strongly advised to carpool only with members of their households;
  2. conserve fuel and reduce exhaust emissions by combining necessary motor vehicle trips;
  3. turn off all lights and electrical appliances in unoccupied areas;
  4. use fans to circulate air. If air conditioning is necessary, set thermostats at 78 degrees;
  5. close the blinds and shades to limit heat build-up and to preserve cooled air;
  6. limit use of household appliances. If necessary, run the appliances at off-peak (after 7 p.m.) hours. These would include dishwashers, dryers, pool pumps and water heaters;
  7. set refrigerators and freezers at more efficient temperatures;
  8. purchase and install energy efficient lighting and appliances with the Energy Star label; and
  9. reduce or eliminate outdoor burning and attempt to minimize indoor sources of PM 2.5 such as smoking.

Additional information on ozone and PM 2.5 is available on DEC's website and on DOH's website (leaves DEC website). To stay up-to-date with announcements from DEC, sign up for DEC Delivers: DEC's Premier Email Service.

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