Despite Improvements in Air Quality Throughout the Country, Massachusetts Receives Failing Grades for Air Pollution | American Lung Association

Despite Improvements in Air Quality Throughout the Country, Massachusetts Receives Failing Grades for Air Pollution

Despite continued improvement in air quality, local residents remain at risk from health effects of unhealthy air, according to new report from the American Lung Association

(April 20, 2016) -


BOSTON, MA– Despite the American Lung Association’s 2016 “State of the Air” report findings that air quality in the country has improved, grades for air pollution in Massachusetts worsened. Barnstable, Hampden and Middlesex counties received F’s for high ozone days.  However, Pittsfield was listed as one of four of the cleanest cities in the Northeast for both year-round and short-term particle pollution. 

“The 2016 ‘State of the Air’ report finds unhealthful levels of ozone in Massachusetts, putting residents of the Commonwealth at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and cardiovascular harm,” said Jeff Seyler, President & CEO of the American Lung Association of the Northeast. “Across the nation, the report found continued improvement in air quality, but more than half of the people in the United States live in counties that have unhealthful levels of air pollution.”

Each year the “State of the Air” reports on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution and particle pollution. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can be lethal. But the trends reported in this year’s report, which covers data collected in 2012-2014, are strikingly different for these pollutants nationwide, and also in Massachusetts.

Ozone Pollution in Massachusetts
Despite the trend of reducing air pollution, seven out of 13 counties in Massachusetts received failing grades for high ozone days. Those counties were: Barnstable, Bristol, Dukes, Essex, Hampden, Hampshire and Norfolk. Berkshire County and Suffolk County received C for grades high ozone days. Despite failing grades, the Boston-Worcester-Providence metro area still was able to reduce its ozone pollution.

“Ozone is harmful to public health and especially children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Casey Harvell, Director of Public Policy of the American Lung Association in Massachusetts. “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room.”

Nationwide, ozone pollution has decreased because the nation has cleaned up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles. However, according to research, climate change causes warmer temperatures, which makes ozone harder to clean up.

Particle Pollution in Massachusetts
The 2016 report also found year-round particle pollution (soot) levels in 2012-2014 were similar to the 2015 report. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. No county in Massachusetts received a failing grade for year-round particle pollution. However, Barnstable, Dukes and Hampshire counties did not have a monitor to report year-round particle pollution data. Norfolk, Middlesex and Franklin counties did not have complete data to report a grade.

“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal,” said Seyler. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”

The 2016 report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. According to the 2016 report, every county with a monitor received an A for short-term particle pollution.

“If we can do more to save lives—we should, and we can,” David Hill, a pulmonologist and Chair-Elect of the American Lung Association of the Northeast’s Leadership Board said. “The Lung Association calls on Massachusetts leaders to adopt a strong Clean Power Plan to reduce harmful emissions from power plants that worsen climate change and immediately harm health.”

Learn more about Massachusetts’ rankings, as well as air quality across the state and the nation in the 2016 “State of the Air” report at stateoftheair.org. For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, contact Ebony Walmsley, Communications Associate for the American Lung Association of the Northeast at media@LungNE.org or 860-838-4374.

Significant findings from the State of the Air 2016 report for Massachusetts by region include:
 Central/Western MA
Berkshire County received a C for ozone; Berkshire received an A for short-term particle pollution. Last year it did not have a monitor.
Additionally Pittsfield placed on the list of cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution.

Hampden County received an F for ozone; Hampden received an A for particle pollution. 
Hampshire County received an F for ozone.
Worcester County’s received a D for ozone.
There are no air pollution monitors in Franklin County.
Southeast, Cape & the Islands
Barnstable County received an F for ozone.
Bristol County’s grade for ozone remained at an F. The county earned an A for particle pollution.

Dukes County remained at an F for ozone pollution.   Dukes County does not have a particle pollution monitor.
 Plymouth County does not have an ozone pollution monitor. It earned an A for short-term particle pollution and a place on the list of the cleanest counties for the pollutant.
 There are no air pollution monitors in Nantucket.
 Greater Boston Metro Area

Essex County received an F for ozone The county also received an A for particle pollution.
Middlesex County’s received a D for ozone. Middlesex had incomplete data for particle pollution.

Suffolk County remained at a C for ozone Suffolk received an A for particle pollution.

Norfolk County’s received a D for ozone. The county did not have sufficient data for particle pollution.

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