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For Fifth Year, Hampton Roads Posts Best Results Ever for All Three Measures of Air Pollution, Finds 2019 ‘State of the Air’ Report

American Lung Association’s 20th annual air quality report finds more than 4 in 10 Americans live with unhealthy air quality. For fourth year, Virginia Beach-Norfolk on cleanest U.S. cities list for daily measure of fine particle pollution.

(April 24, 2019) - VIRGINIA BEACH, VA

For more information please contact:

Allison MacMunn
[email protected]
312-801-7628

The American Lung Association’s 2019 “State of the Air” report found that air quality in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC metro area continued to match or improve upon its previous year’s levels for the fifth consecutive year.  In addition to Hampton City and Suffolk City’s ozone smog performance remaining unchanged from last year’s report, Hampton Roads posted its fourth year in a row with zero unhealthy days of fine particle pollution,  

The 20th annual air quality “report card” tracks Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of ozone and particle pollution, both of which can be deadly. The report also found that the area improved to its best ever performance for its ninth consecutive year for year-round particle pollution and met the national standard for as many years.

“Despite all of this progress, Hampton Roads residents should be aware that there are still occasional days when we’re breathing unhealthy air, driven by local emissions, upwind sources, and extreme heat as a result of climate change, placing our health and lives at risk,” said Kevin Stewart, the American Lung Association’s Director of Environmental Health for Advocacy and Public Policy. “In addition to any remaining challenges here in the 22 counties and cities of Hampton Roads, the 20th-anniversary ‘State of the Air’ report highlights that more than 4 in 10 Americans are living with unhealthy air, and we’re heading in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting public health.”

This year’s report covers the most recent quality-assured data available collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2015-2017. Notably, those three years were the hottest recorded in global history. 

Each year the “State of the Air” provides a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution, also known as smog, and particle pollution, often 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 Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC

Compared to the 2018 report, Hampton Roads experienced the same number of unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report, earning the area an B grade and a ranking of 123rd worst in the country.

“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 showed that ozone levels increased in most cities nationwide, in large part due to the record-breaking global heat experienced in the three years tracked in the report. 

Particle Pollution in Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC

The 2019 report also found year-round particle pollution levels were lower than in the 2018 report. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.  For its ninth year, the metro area continued to improve and to meet the national air quality standard for the year-round measure, and ranked 156th worst in the nation, improving from 134th worst last year.  

“Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, industrial sources, 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” 2019 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. For the fourth year in a row, the report found that all locations monitoring this pollutant, the Cities of Hampton, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach, posted zero days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels, ranking the area among the cleanest in the nation.

While improvements have continued locally, many of these spikes in the western United States were directly linked to weather patterns leading to drought or to wildfire events, which are increasing in frequency and intensity in many areas of the country due to climate change. 

While the report examined data from 2015-2017, this 20th annual report online provides information on air pollution trends back to the first report. Learn more about rankings for Hampton Roads, as well as air quality across area states and the nation, in the 2019 “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota. For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health, healthy air, and threats to air quality, contact Annette Eyer at [email protected]  or 717.971.1124

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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 coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.

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