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Air quality drops in region over summer.

Byline: Sarah E. Sierra

New Englanders experienced an increase in the number of poor air-quality days this summer compared to 2006, according to the regional Environmental Protection Agency office.

From preliminary data collected between May and September, there were 26 days in which ozone levels were unhealthy, according to the federal agency. In contrast, in 2006 there were 16 unhealthy ozone days. Over the long term, however, air quality in New England continues to improve, EPA officials said.

EPA records show that Connecticut had 17days this year, compared to 13 in 2006; Massachusetts had 20 such days this year, compared to 11 in 2006; Rhode Island had eight days this year, three in 2006; Maine had eight days this year, two in 2006; New Hampshire had six days this year, compared to two in 2006; and Vermont had one day this year, compared to none in 2006.

The main ingredient of smog, ground-level ozone is unhealthy when average concentrations exceed 0.08 parts per million over an eight-hour period.

The increase in the number of days with unhealthy air this year was directly related to the increase in the number of hot days. Sunlight and high temperatures speed the formation of ground-level ozone smog. August and September were especially hot, dry and sunny for much of New England.

Officials noted, however, that even though warm temperatures this summer led to an increase in unhealthy days, New England over the long term has experienced a decrease in the number of unhealthy ozone days. In 1983, for instance, New England had 90 unhealthy days, compared to 26 this summer. The overall decrease since 1980 in New England is more than 20 percent.

"When we look lack to the air quality conditions a generation ago, we can feel proud of the advances we have made in reducing pollution," Robert Varney, administrator of EPA's New England office, said in a prepared statement. "The unhealthy days we experience this summer, however, remind us that our efforts to use cleaner cars and our commitment to reducing industrial emission and conserving energy in our daily lives, all measures that lower air pollution, must continue."

Exposure to elevated ozone levels can cause serious breathing problems, and aggravated asthma and other pre-existing lung diseases. It can also make people who are vulnerable more susceptible to respiratory infection.

Mr. Varney said the EPA has taken a number of steps to reduce air pollution. Since 2004, new cars, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks, and minivans have to meet stricter emissions standards.
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Oct 3, 2007
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