New Report: Philadelphia Metro Area Air Quality Improves to Best Ever for Ozone and Year-Round Particle Pollution, But Still Fails for Ozone; Continues to Earn ‘D’ Grade for 24-Hour Particle Pollution

Study Finds 1 in 3 Nationwide Exposed to Unhealthy Air
The Philadelphia metro area’s air quality has improved since last year’s report, according to the American Lung Association’s 2023 “State of the Air” report, which was released today. The 16-county Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD metro area set new best-ever marks for ozone and the long-term measure of fine particle pollution. However, despite its improvement, the number of unhealthy days for ozone smog continues to earn an ‘F’ grade. For the 24-hour measure of particle pollution, the area earned a ‘D’ grade, with the number of unhealthy days remaining unchanged in this year’s report. Nationally, the report found that nearly 120 million people, or more than one in three, in the U.S. live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.

The Lung Association’s 24th annual “State of the Air” report grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution, annual particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2019-2021.

“As we can see from this year’s report data, there is much work to be done in the Philadelphia metro area to improve our air quality,” said Deb Brown, Chief Mission Officer for the Lung Association. “Even one poor air quality day is one too many for our residents at highest risk, such as children, older adults, individuals who are pregnant and those living with chronic disease. That’s why we are calling on lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels to take action to ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe.”

“We know that social disparities lead to health disparities, and that is also reflected in this report which shows that improvement has been uneven where people of color and those living in poverty are more likely to live in an area where they are exposed to more poor air quality days. It is time that we take steps to address both environmental and structural inequalities that lead to these outcomes,” said Brown.

Nationally, the report found that ozone pollution has generally improved across the nation, thanks in large part to the success of the Clean Air Act. However, more work remains to fully clean up harmful pollution, and short-term particle pollution continues to get worse. In addition, some communities bear a greater burden of air pollution. Out of the nearly 120 million people who live in areas with unhealthy air quality, a disproportionate number – more than 64 million (54%) – are people of color. In fact, people of color were 64% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one measure, and 3.7 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three measures. 

Ground-level Ozone Pollution in Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD Metro Area
Compared to the 2022 report, the Philadelphia metro area experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone. “State of the Air” ranked the metro area as the 28th most polluted city for ozone pollution, remaining off the list of the nation’s 25 worst cities. Despite the improvement, its ranking was slightly worse than its placement at 29th worst in last year’s report. This year, Philadelphia County was worst in the metro area—but posted the metro area’s best-ever weighted average of 6.5 unhealthy ozone days, marking a third year in a row with improvement over the prior year—though it continued to receive an 'F’ grade for ozone pollution. Bucks County also earned an ‘F’ grade with a weighted average of 5.7 unhealthy days. Still, the metro area showed significant improvement over the area’s worst performance, when Camden County, NJ recorded 70.3 unhealthy ozone pollution days in the 2001 report. In this year’s report, Camden County, NJ and New Castle County, DE each earned a ‘D’ grade for 2.3 days with unhealthy levels of ozone.

Particle Pollution in Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD Metro Area
The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. The Philadelphia metro area’s short-term particle pollution remained unchanged in this year’s report, with the same number of unhealthy air days recorded in the metro area’s most polluted county as in last year’s report. After improving to a best-ever 'C’ grade for the 24-hour measure of particle pollution in the 2020 report, the area earned a ‘D’ in each of the next three reports. Delaware County, PA remained the most polluted county in the metro area with a weighted average of 2.3 days with unhealthy levels of particle pollution, unchanged from last year, and received a 'D' grade the measure. Even so, the metro area posted a better ranking of 55th worst, up from 48th in last year’s report.

The 2023 “State of the Air” report found that year-round particle pollution levels in the Philadelphia metro area were significantly lower than in last year’s report. The area was tied for 46th most polluted for year-round particle pollution, much better than its ranking of tied for 18th last year. Camden County, NJ, though retaining last year’s average, displaced Delaware County, PA as the most polluted county in the metro area, setting a new best-ever record for the metro area overall.   

The American Lung Association is calling on President Biden to urgently move forward on several measures to clean up air pollution nationwide, including new pollution limits on ozone and particle pollution and new measures to clean up power plants and vehicles. See the full report results and sign the petition at
For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
[email protected]

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