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Air Pollutants in NYC

There are many various forms of air pollution that can negatively affect the health and quality of life of New Yorkers.  The effects of air pollutants upon the city are different depending upon the type of pollutant and its source.  Below are some of the leading air pollutants of concern in New York City, including a description of their effect on the city and common sources:

  • Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5): Fine particulate matter consists of small, airborne particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less. PM2.5 that can penetrate deep into the lungs, causing inflammation of the airways, exacerbating lung and heart disease, increasing hospital admissions and contributing to premature mortality. Sources of PM2.5 include all types of combustion sources, including motor vehicles and boilers used for heating; the elemental composition of PM2.5 can vary by source and determine PM2.5 health effects.
  • Nitrogen Oxides (NOx): Nitrogen oxides are gases produced by fuel combustion. They include nitric oxide (NO), which is rapidly converted to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) after emission from vehicles and other sources. Exposures have been associated with lung irritation, emergency department visits and hospital admissions for respiratory conditions. Nitrogen oxides also contribute to the formation of ozone.
  • Elemental Carbon (EC): Elemental carbon is a component of PM2.5 emitted from fossil fuel combustion, including diesel exhaust. EC can cause irritation of the airways and exacerbate asthma, may increase the risk of lung cancer, and like greenhouse gases, can contribute to hotter temperatures in cities (the urban heat island effect).
  • Sulfur Dioxide (SO2): Sulfur dioxide is a gas emitted from fossil fuel combustion at power plants and other industrial facilities.  SO2 is a significant air pollutant and can cause acid rain and is associated with increased respiratory illnesses.
  • Ozone (O3): Ozone is a gas made up of three oxygen atoms which enters the air from motor vehicle exhaust, industrial emissions, and natural sources.  Ozone is naturally present approximately 10 to 30 miles above the earth’s surface where it protects us from the sun’s harmful rays.  However, at ground-level ozone creates smog and can trigger a variety of health problems including asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

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