NYU Urban Seminar: Kevin Cromar and Lars Perlmutt on Air Quality Indices

News & Events | October 15th 2015

Image Copyright: Testing via Shutterstock

On October 13th, the NYU Urban Seminar series, co-hosted by the NYU Furman Center and the Marron Institute, welcomed Dr. Kevin Cromar, Director of the Air Quality Initiative and a Clinical Assistant Professor at the NYU Marron Institute of Urban Management, and Dr. Lars Perlmutt, an environmental health scientist, who discussed the development of an Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) to communicate the respiratory health risks associated with short-term exposure to air pollution using New York City data.

From a public health perspective, Cromar and Permutt discussed how even small improvements to air quality in large cities like New York can create large benefits for a city's residents. They highlighted three possible strategies to deliver these health benefits to urban dwellers: 1. by reduce pollution concentration, 2. reduce individual exposure time to pollution, and 3. reduce individual susceptibility to respiratory illness. Of the three, Cromar and Permutt argued that reducing individual exposure time is the most viable option due to the low-cost of implementation. They found that ''risk communication' (publishing a daily air quality index) helps to successfully reduce individual exposure time to air pollution.

Cromar urged for the careful reconsideration of the current AQI produced daily by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in adherence to the Clean Air Act as the primary tool for keeping the public abreast of air quality in the United States. He suggested that in order to adequately project current air pollution levels the index should transition from a nationwide scale to one that’s more region-specific, as pollutant mixtures at varying levels affect regions quite differently. Furthermore, the AQI reports on the presence of a single pollutant instead of the combination of different pollutants that are present in the air. As a result, 90 percent of adverse pollution impacts occur on days defined as "good" or "moderate" by tha current AQI.Finally, the AQI ignores risk from non-automobile related pollutants--including ozone, the greatest risk factor among pollutants for respiratory health. He suggested that because higher AQI index values do not always correlate with greater health risk, the tool does a poor job of informing the public of health hazards. 

Cromar and Permutt proposed that their newly developed AQHI would provide multibased, health-focused standard for measuring and communicating to the public the risks of air pollution. Armed with more accurate information, people with asthma or other respiratory issues would be properly informed and take the correct preventative measures.


The NYU Urban Seminar series is co-hosted by the NYU Furman Center and the Marron Institute. The speaker series is focused on research with implications for urban policy, and features a variety of researchers from across the U.S. discussing their work. View the full list of fall 2015 speakers. The NYU Urban Seminar is open to the public; registration is required.

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