Chautauqua County is associated with grapes, lakes, farms; probably the last thing one would think of is smog.
However, a recent study by the American Lung Association gave Chautauqua County an F for ozone pollution, also known as smog. Chautauqua County was the only Western New York county to receive a failing grade in the State of the Air 2012 report.
"Air pollution in our communities continues to be a major threat that cuts lives short," President and CEO of the American Lung Association in the Northeast Jeff Seyler said in the press release.
A farmer uses a tractor to work a field near Illinois Route 255 in Roxana, Ill., as the ConocoPhillips Wood River Refinery in Roxana looms in the background. Pollution in the midwest often winds up in Chautauqua County, which creates high ozone days.
Seyler noted improvements have been made in Western New York, particularly in Erie and Niagara counties which improved their ratings from F's to C's, but there is still progress to be made.
"We not only need to defend the protections in the Clean Air Act that are responsible for the progress we've made, we need to fight for tighter standards that will ensure further progress and will lead to improved lung health and more lives saved," he added.
But why is ozone pollution a problem in Chautauqua County? Chautauqua County Health Department Director of Environmental Health Mark Stow explained Chautauqua County is "a victim of location."
"It's not necessarily anything we generated (here) typically we are downwind of the mid-west and Canada ... Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio," Stow explained.
Stow explained ozone is not directly produced by industry but is created by some of the pollutants it emits in conjunction with sunlight, and is therefore very weather dependant.
"Ozone is created by sunlight on pollutants like nitrogen dioxide and gasoline vapors. It is typically a problem when air is stagnant. ... It's a very temperature driven thing," he said.
Even though Chautauqua County received an F, Stow said progress has been made here with only 11 high smog days in 2008-2010, less than half what it was 10 years ago.
"We average about 3.7 high ozone days per year which is down from around 25 ten years ago. We had 11 in 2008 to 2010 at an orange level which has a warning for unhealthy and sensitive people and children If you look at the report, our emission only contributed 3 percent to the ozone here. We are really a victim of location," he said.
High ozone days are categorized in three color codes of increasing intensity; orange (unhealthy for sensitive groups), red (unhealthy), or purple (very unhealthy).
Stow said the improvement in the number of smoggy days is due to the increased federal regulation on factories, cars and even consumer products.
"The federal government has put regulations in place and our local pollution generating sites have complied with regulations like the Clean Air Act. ... They also clamped down on products like hair spray and made them much safer. Now auto emissions are down too due to federal regulations. We are still rated F but it is better than used to be," Stow explained.
Stow said Chautauqua County does have a higher than average incidence of asthma, but could not confirm if this is due to smog.
Although Chautauqua County got an F for ozone pollution, the report did say the county has one of the lowest levels of short-term particle pollution in the nation.
Stow explained this is because this type of pollution is much more localized.
"Particulates tend to be a local thing and since we are a predominately agricultural area that is why we don't have a lot of it," he added.
The American Lung Association's State of the Air 2012 report finds that over 3.2 million New Yorkers live in counties where unhealthy air endangers their lives and health. In this year's report, six of the 34 counties in New York state with air quality monitors received failing grades, compared with 16 out of 34 counties in 2011.
While significant progress continues to be made in cleaning up air pollution across the state, many New Yorkers still breathe unhealthy air. The standards set forth in the Clean Air Act to clean up major air pollution sources - including coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, and SUVs - are working to drastically cut ozone (smog) and particle pollution (soot) from the air we breathe.
The State of the Air 2012 report, which can be found at www.stateoftheair.org, grades counties based, in part, on the color-coded Air Quality Index developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help alert the public to daily unhealthy air conditions. Chautauqua County's information can be found at www.stateoftheair.org/2012/states/new-york/chautauqua-36013.html.