New York is found in the Northeastern region of America, being part of the Mid-Atlantic states and bordering on other neighboring states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Connecticut. It is often referred to as ‘New York State’ in order to distinguish it from its largest and most famous city, namely New York City or NYC for short. The state is home to the United Nations headquarters and has been described as the cultural and financial heart of the world, as well as holding a huge amount of economic power on the global circuit.
As well as having a huge population, with some 19.3 million inhabitants statewide, it is also a major draw for visitors around the world for touristic reasons, as well as having people moving in for purposes of employment and also education. With a wide and varied amount of industries occurring, specifically exportation of high volumes of goods such as food, electronics, computers and jewelry, as well as large amounts of agricultural activity, it thus happens that New York State is subject to fluctuating levels of air quality.
Generally, whilst North America maintains a decent quality of air when compared to many countries around the world, with such a large amount of anthropogenic movement taking place, along with the many industries and economic activity (with the state having the strongest economy in the country), there is bound to be a heavy amount of pollutive fallout, for many reasons which will be discussed in short.
In 2020, New York State had some of its cities come in with some fairly high readings of PM2.5 for their yearly averages. Queens County came in with a PM2.5 reading of 10.2 μg/m³, placing it in the ‘good’ air quality ratings bracket, which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 12.1 to 35.4 μg/m³ to be classified as such. This placed the city in 1st place out of all cities ranked in New York, with Armonk coming in at 2nd place with a reading of 9.6 μg/m³. This placed Armonk in 2776th place out of all cities ranked worldwide, showing that it could improve upon its air quality significantly.
However, there were a majority of the cities coming in with much cleaner air quality readings, showing that New York State is a mixed bag, with many cities and areas having very high concentrations of pollution, whilst others enjoyed a much better level of air quality. Even the largest city in the state (New York) came in with a yearly average of 6.5 μg/m³, a very respectable reading considering the cities size and population count.
So, in closing, as mentioned there are a wide variety of pollution readings present in the state, depending on which city you are in at any given time, and as such, preventative measures such as staying up to date on the pollution levels via the use of air quality maps (as available on the IQAir website or AirVisual app) would help those who wish to stay informed on pollution levels make their decisions accordingly, with the avoidance of outdoor activity or exercise recommended during these higher pollution time periods.
The main causes of pollution in New York typically stem from many different combustion sources. Some of these would come from the many different industrial areas present throughout the various cities. These can include factories and power plants, or other related manufacturing facilities. Many of these areas use fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas to produce their energy, and as such, this would release a large amount of chemical pollution and fine particulate matter into the air, as well as industrial runoff pertaining to whatever material is being produced, particularly when it comes to chemical processing plants. This can affect the ground and water cleanliness, as well as having an adverse effect on the surrounding air.
Other causes include ones such as the ever-present automobile industry, with countless numbers of vehicles on the road at any given time, as well as vehicle ownership being on a steady rise throughout the state and indeed worldwide. With many people commuting into the larger cities for work during the day, there would be huge amounts of traffic, something which is synonymous with the roads in New York City, with people travelling in and out of the city on a daily basis, causing vast clouds of vehicle exhaust to gather in the air over these high traffic zones.
To compound this situation further, there would be many larger vehicles present on the road, often in heavy use for the transportation of industrial goods and products. These include vehicles such as trucks and lorries, both of which put out larger amounts of pollution due to their greater size and weight, as well as often running on diesel fuel, causing more chemical compounds and PM2.5 or PM10 particles to be released, more so than a smaller or cleaner fuel using counterpart would. Other prominent causes of pollution throughout the state would be construction sites and road repairs, occasional forest fires (which can be great sources of pollution whether they occur within or outside the state, with wind direction often determining how much of the smoke will make its way to a particular destination, or in the worst-case scenario, over a major city).
Observing the data collected over the course of 2020, and using the most polluted cities on record in New York, there emerges a pattern where the PM2.5 can be seen to be higher than the other months of the year. To use both Queens County and Brockport as an example, they both exhibited heightened bouts of pollution in the mid to late period of the year, as well as at the year's end as the winter months begin to descend upon the city.
To cite some months on record, Queens County saw a more respectable PM2.5 reading of 6.1 μg/m³ in May. This quickly climbed up to 9.5 μg/m³ in June, and then up by a significant amount more to 13.1 μg/m³ in July. After these months the readings started to decline somewhat, with August coming in with a reading of 12.1 μg/m³ and September a much cleaner 7.5 μg/m³.
As mentioned at year's end the PM2.5 count rose again, with November and December coming in with readings of 11.7 μg/m³ and 12 μg/m³. Brockport saw a similar situation, with July having a heightened reading of 10.6 μg/m³ present, putting it into the ‘good’ pollution ratings bracket, which requires a PM2.5 reading of anywhere between 10 to 12 μg/m³ to be classified as such. Then once again at year's end the pollution level rose, with October's very clean reading of 5.9 μg/m³ (in Brockport) rising up to 10 μg/m³ in November and 13.6 μg/m³ in December.
This is indicative (and also present throughout nearly all cities within New York State) that the months of June through to August show heightened readings of pollution. November and December also showed higher readings, and of note is that February also came in with higher readings throughout many of the cities. These are the months in which pollution would be at its highest throughout the state, and the air would be at its most permeated with smoke, haze and other harmful particulate matter.
With much of its pollution arising from the aforementioned combustion sources, New York would typically see a large amount of related pollutants entering its atmosphere. Cars would release large amounts of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), as well as sulfur dioxide (SO2), both of which can add to instances of acid rain, as well as causing irritation and inflammation to the airways and lung tissue, which can lead to a whole host of health problems for those afflicted.
One of the main pollutants would be created as a byproduct of other contaminating elements. The various oxides of nitrogen (NOx), as well as various gases and other chemicals can react through sunlight exposure to be converted into ozone (O3), a pollutant that can be highly harmful when it accumulates at ground level, and often referred to as smog when this occurs. This is of particular concern during the summer months when large amounts of sunlight can reach the exhaust clouds left lingering on the roads and convert them into ozone.
Other pollutants of note include ones such as black carbon and volatile organic compounds (VOC's). Black carbon is the main component of soot and can often be found coating roadside areas that see a high volume of traffic, acting as a climate changing agent as well as a potent carcinogen when respired. Some examples of VOC's are chemicals such as benzene, toluene and formaldehyde.
There are certain demographics present among the population of New York that would find themselves at greater risk of adverse health effects when subject to excessive pollution exposure. These would be ones such as young children, the elderly, those with compromised immune systems or preexisting health conditions, as well as pregnant mothers. The last group is particularly vulnerable, with women who are overexposed to pollution suffering from a whole host of effects such as higher chances of miscarriage, babies being born with a low birth weight, or prematurely. This highlights the importance of reducing one’s exposure to pollution as well as the necessity to reduce it throughout the state, and indeed worldwide.