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Ozone Air Pollution in New Jersey: Many Counties Worsen; Major Parts of State in Metro Areas on “Worst 25 Cities” List, 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. In all but a few counties, particle pollution levels statewide at best ever, thanks to efforts to clean up vehicles, industry, and power plants.

(April 24, 2019) - TRENTON, N.J.

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Allison MacMunn
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312-801-7628

The American Lung Association’s 2019 “State of the Air” report found that ozone (smog) air pollution in New Jersey and throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic often worsened when compared with last year’s report, even as fine particle pollution levels usually continued their steady improvement. 

For ozone smog, all counties but Warren County were in metro areas that ranked among the worst 25 in the nation: North Jersey counties again fell into the 10th worst metro area (New York-Newark), and the metro area including South Jersey counties (Philadelphia-Reading-Camden) worsened from 24th to 21st worst in the country.

The report also found that the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area, while improving to its best performance for its seventh consecutive year for year-round particle pollution and meeting the national air quality standard, continued to rank among the worst in the country for this pollutant—although its rank did improve from 12th to 18th worst.  The New York-Newark metro area’s rank also continued to improve, from 26th to 30th worst for this measure.

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 10 New Jersey counties equaled or newly posted their fewest number of days high in particle pollution (9 of them earning “A” grades for zero days), and only one county (Camden) worsened (from “A” to “C”) compared with last year’s report.

Thirteen New Jersey Counties fall into the 4-state, 31-county New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA metro area.  Seven are part of the 4-state, 16-county Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD metro area.  And Warren County is in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ metro area. In addition to providing metro area rankings, the 20th annual “State of the Air” report also grades and ranks individual counties.

“People living, working, or going to school in New Jersey 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 state, 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 New Jersey

Compared to the 2018 report, 11 of the 15 counties with monitors experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report, with 10 counties earning “F” grades.  Camden County had the worst performance, and worsened for the second straight year, posting a weighted average of 10.8 days per year with unhealthy levels of ozone pollution.  Only one county, Bergen, improved, but only slightly, going only from an F to a D.

Nevertheless, the rankings of the metro areas were driven by ozone levels outside of the state, at the worst county in each area: Philadelphia, PA, in the south, Fairfield, CT, in the north, and Northampton, PA, in the A-B-E metro area. 

“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 New Jersey

However, the 2019 report found that both year-round and daily particle pollution levels were significantly lower than in the 2018 report. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. Union County, NJ, recorded the most year-round particle pollution in the New York-Newark metro area, taking over from New York County, New York’s higher level in last year’s report.  Although the highest level in the state for this measure was in Camden County, it was edged out for highest in its metro area by Philadelphia County, PA.  All results met the air quality standard.

“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. This year’s report also found that the metro areas had fewer days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels.  Bergen, Ocean, and Union Counties in New Jersey, along with Litchfield County, CT, tied for worst in the New York-Newark metro area with “B” grades. Camden County was worst in the state, with a “C” grade for an average of 1.3 days high in particle pollution, but came in behind New Castle County, Delaware’s 1.7 days (also a “C”) for the worst polluted county in the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area for this measure.

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 New Jersey’s rankings, as well as air quality across 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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