Fireworks drop Hawaii's grade to D for air quality
One night of fireworks -- New Year's Eve -- again resulted in a D grade for Honolulu in the American Lung Association's annual State of the Air Report, released today.
However, Honolulu maintained its third-place ranking among the top 25 cleanest American cities for long-term particle pollution. Among counties, Honolulu also ranked 11th among the 25 cleanest for long-term particle pollution, the same as last year.
Maui County ranked eighth among the cleanest counties for long-term particle pollution, slipping from fifth place last year. The county is one of about 80 reporting no 24-hour particle pollution in harmful amounts, according to the report.
Wilfred Nagamine, program manager for the state Health Department's Clean Air Branch, said he did not want to downplay the effects of Dec. 31 fireworks on air quality, but the methodology used by the lung association to assess air quality "is skewed to one night."
He said the D grade gives the false impression that Honolulu's air is typically bad.
Tradewinds play a role in keeping Oahu's air as clean as it is, he added.
Sterling Yee, president of the American Lung Association of Hawaii, said the air pollution on New Year's Eve not only hurts Hawaii's reputation, but is dangerous for thousands of children and adults who suffer from a lung-related disease.
"More than 150,000 Hawaii residents are afflicted with one or more of these diseases -- pediatric and adult asthma, chronic bronchitis and emphysema," Yee said in a news release.
"Each of them is potentially at risk from particulate pollution, and the American Lung Association of Hawaii therefore continues to seek restrictions on the excessive use of fireworks at New Year's."
The report, which assessed air quality in 2003-2005 nationwide, said Honolulu barely got a passing grade because of the high level of particle pollution measured during 24 hours on Dec. 31.
Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said, "It's unfortunate they would place so much focus on one day of the year we have some issues with. We thought the results were very good. We were one of the top states in the nation for air quality."
Honolulu was one of 45 major cities with no monitored ozone, or smog, air pollution in unhealthy ranges. Only 34 cities were in that category last year.
Yee said Honolulu's failure to control excessive fireworks counteracts the good results in ozone and long-term particle pollution areas. He said the lung association in Hawaii is continuing to try to curb annual New Year's fireworks pollution and supports strict enforcement of existing fireworks-related laws.
He said exposure to particle pollution affects thousands of Hawaii residents, reducing their lung function, causing greater use of medications and increasing school absenteeism, emergency room visits and hospital admissions.
The report said, "Short-term, or acute, exposure to particle pollution has been shown to increase heart attacks, strokes and emergency-room visits for asthma and cardiovascular disease and, most importantly, to increase the risk of death."
It noted a slightly lower threshold of unhealthful air was used for the study, based on newly adopted national standards for short-term particle pollution.
The report says recent studies show 24-hour increases in particle pollution, as occur with New Year's fireworks, cause increased hospitalizations, deaths and emergency room visits for young and old patients with acute respiratory and cardiovascular ailments.