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For Release: Tuesday, April 29, 2014

New York Statewide Air Quality Now Meets Federal Standard

New York Metro Area Achieves Attainment with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency National Ambient Air Quality Standards for Particulate Matter (PM 2.5)

All of New York State air quality is now in compliance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards for particulate matter (PM2.5) levels, State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Joe Martens announced today. The New York metropolitan area significantly reduced its PM2.5 levels and as a result the New York Metro Area and the entire state now achieve federal compliance.

"Improving air quality is vital to protecting our environment and the health of New Yorkers," Commissioner Martens said. "New York State worked closely with federal and local partners to reduce harmful emissions from mobile and stationary sources. These results clearly indicate the success of our efforts by achieving significant reductions in PM2.5 levels in the New York metro area, allowing New York City residents and workers to breathe easier. All of New York State now meets federal air quality standards for particulate matter."

Monitoring of short- and long-term PM2.5 concentrations in ambient (outdoor) air in the New York metropolitan area over the last decade shows a steady decrease in concentrations. Measurements went from 5 percent above the annual standard in 2003 to 22 percent below in 2013. Similarly, measurements went from 14 percent above the 24-hour standard in 2003 to 26 percent below in 2013.

As a result of the lower particulate levels, EPA has finalized approval of DEC's redesignation request for PM2.5, which confirms that the New York metropolitan region is in compliance (attainment) with both the annual and 24-hour PM2.5 standards. EPA also approved a maintenance plan submitted by DEC that demonstrates the continued ability to meet federal PM2.5 standards in the region through 2025. EPA's final action officially redesignates the 10-county New York metropolitan region as attainment for the annual and 24-hour PM2.5 standards.

Particulate matter - commonly referred to as soot - is a mixture of small particles and liquid droplets that occurs from combustion sources, including vehicle exhaust, power plant or industry emissions and chemical reactions involving gases such as sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and, to a lesser extent, volatile organic compounds (VOCs). PM2.5, also known as fine particulate matter, includes particles in the air that are less than 2.5 micrometers (microns) in diameter, or approximately one-third the thickness of a strand of hair.

Exposure to fine particles can cause short-term health effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath, and can also affect lung function and worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. People with breathing and heart problems, children and the elderly may be particularly sensitive to PM2.5.

The reduction of PM2.5 in ambient air in the New York metropolitan area and corresponding improvement in air quality were achieved by permanent and enforceable emissions reductions from a wide range of particulate matter sources.

Stringent control programs for mobile sources include New York's Vehicle Inspection and Maintenance program, emissions standards established in the Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) program and requirements for the use of ultra-low diesel fuel and anti-idling prohibitions for heavy duty diesel vehicles. As a result of these programs, vehicle and engine designs have greatly advanced and cleaner fuels have been developed, which reduce harmful emissions.

In addition, DEC developed new regulations for the stationary and area source sectors that have led to decreased particulate matter formation. Among significant regulations now in place are:

  • A requirement to utilize Reasonably Available Control Technology (RACT) for NOx and VOCs from facilities and products throughout the state;
  • Implementation of the multi-state Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) to control NOx and SO2 emissions within New York and from high-emitting upwind states; and
  • Regulations that implement a 2010 law that requires ultra-low sulfur heating fuels.

DEC will continue to work with federal and local partners, including industry, to further build upon efforts to reduce pollution and promote better air quality in the New York metropolitan area and across New York State. Because of the progress made in reducing PM2.5 in New York, in October 2013, DEC was able to recommend to EPA that all of New York State be designated as in attainment with a more stringent annual standard for PM2.5 of 12 µg/m3.

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