For Twelfth Year, Richmond Metro Area Posts Best Results Ever for Year-round Particle 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 second year, Richmond experiences worse ozone smog pollution
(April 24, 2019) - RICHMOND, VA
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The American Lung Association’s 2019 “State of the Air” report found that ozone smog in the Richmond, VA metro area again worsened when compared with performance in the previous report. In contrast, the area’s year-round measure of fine particle pollution matched or improved upon the previous year’s results for the 12th straight year,and met the national air quality standard for the last nine years.
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, for the seventh consecutive year, had zero days when fine particle pollution reached unhealthy ranges, placing Richmond among the nation’s cleanest cities for this pollutant measure.
“Despite all of the progress, residents of the Richmond metro area should be aware that 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 challenges here in the metro area’s 17 counties and cities, 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 Richmond, VA
Compared to the 2018 report, Richmond experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report, posting a weighted average of 2.5 days a year, earning the area a D grade (including a “red” day when air quality was unhealthy for everyone, not only those in sensitive groups), and worsening its ranking to 71st worst in the country from 80th place last year, when the area earned a C.
“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 Richmond, VA
However, continuing a long-term trend, the 2019 report 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. The area’s ranking improved significantly, going to 149th most polluted from 116th 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 seventh year in a row, the report found that all locations monitoring this pollutant, Charles City, Chesterfield, and Henrico Counties, and Richmond City, 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 Richmond area rankings, as well as air quality across Virginia 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.
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.