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For at least eighth year, Richmond metro area has best results ever for both measures of fine particle pollution, finds 2018 State of the Air report

Henrico County posts worst number of unhealthy days for ozone smog in metro area in two years, according to American Lung Associations 19th annual air quality report

Updated Trend Charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at Lung.org/sota on April 18, 2018 at 12:01 a.m. EDT.

(April 18, 2018) - RICHMOND, Va.

For more information please contact:

Ewa Dworakowski
[email protected]
717-971-1123

The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found that ozone air pollution in the 13-county, 4-city Richmond metro area and throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic worsened when compared with last year’s report, even as fine particle pollution levels continued their steady improvement. The “State of the Air” report gives results for three measures of air pollution—days with elevated ozone, and daily and annual values for fine particle pollution.

For the eighth consecutive year, the Virginia Beach-Norfolk metro area met the current national standard for year-round particle pollution. For the 11th straight year, the county in the metro area with the worst performance for this measure equaled or bettered the previous year’s results. According to the 19th annual “State of the Air report, the metro area ranked 116th worst of 187 across the country, a worsening from its ranking of 123rd worst in last year’s report. The return of Chesterfield County to the report gave the area the same worst measurement as last year’s report, while other areas in the country improved.

For the daily measure of fine particle pollution, not only did the metro area’s worst mark show improvement or equal last year’s performance for the eighth consecutive year, but for the sixth year in a row, all three jurisdictions monitored for this measure (the counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, and Henrico) continued at “A” with zero days of unhealthful air quality, placing the metro area on the list of “Cleanest Cities” in the country for this pollutant. The metro area’s rank also improved, from 100th worst last year to 112th worst of 201 metro areas in the current report, with fewer areas nationwide being tied for “Cleanest.”

For ozone in the metro area, the past three years of reports with continued improvement reversed, with all jurisdictions equaling (Charles City County) or worsening (the counties of Caroline, Chesterfield, Hanover, and Henrico) when compared with their performance in last year’s report. As a result, the metro area’s rank worsened, from 93rd worst last year to 80th worst of 227 across the country in the current report.

Compared to the 2017 report, the Richmond metro area, as it continues gradual improvement in year-round particle pollution, has seen a distinct increase in unhealthy days for ozone. This is in keeping with trends seen across the nation for both higher ozone and lower particle pollution levels than in last year’s report.

“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone in Richmond can still occasionally put our citizens at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and greater difficulty breathing for those living with a lung disease such as COPD. As long as there are many days with high ozone levels, people with lung diseases such as asthma will continue to need medical attention,” said Kevin Stewart, Director of Environmental Health, American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “Across the nation, the report found continued improvement in air quality, but still, more than four in 10 Americans – 133.9 million – live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution, where their health is at risk.”

The trends in this year’s report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2014-2016, confirm the ongoing challenges to reduce each pollutant in the changing political and outdoor climate.

“We can and should do more to save lives,” Stewart said. “The American Lung Association in Virginia calls on our members of Congress to defend the Clean Air Act, currently under threat from those who want to weaken this effective public health law. We also call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement and enforce the law instead of trying to roll back major safeguards such as the Clean Power Plan and cleaner cars, both steps that help us fight climate change and reduce air pollution.”

For 19 years, “State of the Air” has provided a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution, also known as smog, and particle pollution, also called soot. 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 increase the risk of premature death and other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.

Ozone Pollution in the Richmond metro area
Compared to the 2017 report, the Richmond metro area generally experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. All jurisdictions monitored for this pollutant performed more poorly except for Charles City County, which equaled last year’s performance. Three of them kept the same grades: Henrico and Charles City Counties with “C’s,” and Hanover County, with a “B.” However, two counties that had been listed among the “Cleanest” in the country last year, Caroline and Chesterfield, slipped to a “B” grade in this year’s report.

“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Stewart. “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. Ozone can even shorten life itself.”

This report documents how warmer temperatures brought by climate change make ozone more likely to form and harder to clean up. This year’s report also revealed that ozone levels increased in most cities nationwide, in large part due to warmer temperatures in 2016, the second hottest year on record in the U.S. Over the past decades, ozone pollution has decreased nationwide because the nation has cleaned up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles.

Particle Pollution in the Richmond metro area
The 2018 report also found year-round particle pollution levels, where they could be compared, were distinctly lower than in the 2017 report, and all were much better than the national air quality standard. Both Henrico and Charles City Counties improved for their 11th consecutive year. Chesterfield County, which rejoined the grading after a three-year hiatus because of incomplete data, posted its best performance too, with a value that matched the metro area’s best-ever performance in last year’s report.  Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.

“Particle pollution is made of soot, chemicals, and 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 Stewart. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”

“State of the Air” 2018 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal.  The three locations monitored for this pollutant in the Richmond metro area continued their streak among the nation’s cleanest counties for at least the sixth straight year. But in other areas of the country, many daily spikes of fine particle pollution were directly linked to weather patterns such as drought or to events such as wildfires, which are likely to increase because of climate change. In some localities, high emissions from wood-burning devices have also been a factor.

While the report examined data from 2014-2016, this 19th annual report provides online information on air pollution trends back to the first report covering 1996-1998. Learn more about Virginia’s rankings, as well as air quality in the Richmond metro area and across the nation in the “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota. For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, contact the American Lung Association in Virginia Communications Director Ewa Dworakowski by calling 717-971-1123 or 717-503-3903 (cell) or emailing [email protected].

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About the American Lung Association

The American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.

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