New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) issued an Air Quality Health Advisory for Western New York and Eastern Lake Ontario regions for Wednesday, May 19, 2021 and will be in effect from 11 a.m. through 11 p.m. These regions consist of the following: Region 6 Eastern Lake Ontario, which includes Monroe, Wayne, N. Cayuga, Oswego, and Jefferson counties; and Region 8 Western New York, which includes Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Erie, Wyoming, Genesee, Niagara, and Orleans counties.
What’s the main pollutant triggering this advisory? The answer may surprise you. It’s ground-level ozone (not to be confused with the protective layer of ozone in the upper atmosphere we’ve all heard about). How does ground-level ozone form? Well, it has to do with recent temperature trends as the next few days will be unseasonably warm with temperatures in the low to mid 80s across upstate New York. It’s that intense summer heat that can lead to the formation of ground-level ozone in addition to automobile exhaust and out-of-state emission sources.
The DEC and Department of Health (DOH) issue Air Quality Health Advisories when DEC meteorologists predict levels of pollution (either ozone or fine particulate matter) exceeding 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.
Those most at risk during an Air Quality Advisory are young children, those who exercise outdoors, are involved in vigorous outdoor work, and/or have a respiratory disease (such as asthma). Symptoms of excessive exposure include shortness of breath, chest pain, and coughing. To reduce exposure, it is recommended to go indoors when outdoor levels of ozone are elevated. Ozone levels generally decrease at night and can be minimized during daylight hours by curtailment of automobile travel and the use of public transportation where available.