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Ozone air pollution in New Jersey: Levels worsen; all counties are part of metro areas on the “Worst 25 Cities” list, finds 2018 State of the Air Report

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

(April 18, 2018) - NEWARK, N.J.

The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found that ozone air pollution in New Jersey 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. 


In addition to providing metro area rankings, the 19th annual “State of the Air report also grades and ranks individual counties. Fourteen New Jersey Counties fall into the 4-state, 35-county New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA metro area.  The remaining seven are part of the 4-state, 16-county Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD metro area. 


For ozone, with the sole exception of Atlantic County, NJ, all monitored counties in the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area posted worse results than in last year’s report.  Likewise, for the New York-Newark metro area, 21 of the 27 counties monitored for this pollutant also performed more poorly.  In New Jersey, only three counties (Hudson, Monmouth and Morris) improved, and then only slightly.


As many other areas also had problems with ozone increases, the metro areas’ ranks nevertheless slightly improved in: South Jersey, from 22nd worst last year to 24th worst of 227 in the current report; and in North Jersey, from 9th worst last year to 10th worst.  In both cases, the rank changes were determined by ozone levels outside of the state, at the worst county in each area, Philadelphia, PA, and Fairfield, CT, respectively.


The following areas met the current national standard for year-round particle pollution:


  • For the second year, the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area
  • For the third year, the New York-Newark metro area
  • For the seventh year, counties statewide


The metro area that includes South Jersey ranked 12th worst of 187 across the country in the current report, despite posting its best-ever results for the sixth consecutive year. For North Jersey, the metro area’s rank improved from 22nd worst to 26th worst, taking it just off the “Worst Cities” list for this pollutant measure, as a result of the value for the worst county (New York, NY) improving to the best ever.


For the daily measure of fine particle pollution, all but one (Bergen) of New Jersey’s 12 counties that posted grades either showed improvement or equaled last year’s performance. For the first time ever, both the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden and New York-Newark metro areas earned passing grades for all counties posting results. Both metro areas’ ranks also improved—for North Jersey, from 28th worst last year to 36th worst of 201 in the current report; for South Jersey, from 20th worst last year to 31st worst, removing it from the “Worst Cities” list for this pollutant measure.  In both cases, the rank changes were determined by daily fine particle pollution levels outside of the state, at the worst county in each area, Northampton and Berks, PA, respectively.  


Compared to the 2017 report, New Jersey has seen a distinct increase in unhealthy days for ozone and a continuing gradual improvement in both measures of particle pollution. 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. In the case of year-round particle pollution, the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area posted its 14th consecutive improvement in its worst county’s level since the 2004 report.


“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone in New Jersey and its wider metro areas 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 New Jersey 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 New Jersey

Compared to the 2017 report, New Jersey experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report.  Of the 15 counties posting grades for ozone air pollution, 11 performed more poorly, and 11 (not necessarily the same counties) earned “F” grades.  In New Jersey: Camden, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean Counties all earned their 19th straight “F’s” for this pollutant in the Lung Association’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 New Jersey

Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. 

Noting the exceptions of Middlesex, Warren and Essex Counties (posting an “Incomplete” grade, worse, and equal marks, respectively), the 2018 report found that year-round particle pollution levels were all distinctly lower for the 10 other graded counties than in the 2017 report. The 12 counties that did have monitored values all performed much better than the national standard, continuing a long-standing trend of improvement.  In fact, the last time New Jersey posted a result above the current standard was in the Lung Association’s 2011 report.


“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. According to the 2018 report, seven New Jersey counties had zero days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels in 2014-2016.  Three of them (Atlantic, Gloucester, and Middlesex) continued their streak among the nation’s cleanest counties for the 7th straight year.  In addition, Camden County rejoined the ranks of the country’s cleanest counties by moving to “A” from last year’s “B.” These grades maintain the general long-term trend toward fewer short-term spikes in particle pollution in the Garden State.  Only Bergen County worsened, from “A” to “B.”  Union County improved to match its best ever performance, but kept its “C” grade for the seventh consecutive report.


In other areas of the country, many of the daily spikes 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 New Jersey’s rankings, as well as air quality in the larger metro areas and across the nation in the “State of the Air” report at For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, contact the American Lung Association in New Jersey Communications Director Ewa Dworakowski by calling 717-971-1123 or 717-503-3903 (cell) or emailing [email protected] .




About the American Lung Association in New Jersey

The American Lung Association in New Jersey 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 in New Jersey 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 in New Jersey, 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:

American Lung Association in New Jersey

PO Box 10188 #37214 • Newark, NJ 07101


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