New Report: 9 Jersey Counties Post Best Results But 5 Worsen for Ozone Smog, New York-Newark Metro Area Ranked 13th Worst in U.S.; More State Counties Improve Than Worsen for Annual Particle Pollution

American Lung Association’s 25th Annual “State of the Air” report highlights air quality in New Jersey and across the nation

The 2024 “State of the Air” report, released today by the American Lung Association, finds that New Jersey’s air quality showed mixed results of best performances and continuing problems for some of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution: fine particle pollution and ozone smog. Nationally, the report found that nearly four in ten people in the U.S. live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.

The “State of the Air” report looked at levels of ozone “smog,” the air pollutant affecting the largest number of people in the United States. The report also tracked both daily spikes and year-round averages in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. Air quality is measured in 16 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, which are covered completely by three metropolitan areas ranked in the 2024 “State of the Air” report—the New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA and Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ metro areas covering 13 counties and one county (Warren), respectively, in the northern part of the state, and the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD metro area covering the remaining seven counties in the south.

Air Pollution in New Jersey’s metro areas:

The 31-county New York-Newark metro area, covering 13 New Jersey counties, despite worsening for ozone, earned a slightly better rank (13th worst in the country) than in last year’s report (12th worst); the measure was driven by the frequent days of high ozone pollution in Fairfield County, CT to which the entire area contributes.

This metro area had slightly better performance for the daily measure of fine particle pollution and improved from 59th worst to 64th worst in the nation. Though Fairfield County’s “C” grade was worst in the metro area for the daily measure of particle pollution, Union County, NJ, continued for a third consecutive year as the metro area’s most polluted for the long-term measure, just passing with a pollution level at the federal standard that was recently updated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, with the metro area’s rank improving slightly to 73rd worst in the nation from 71st worst in last year’s report.

The 16-county Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area, covering 7 New Jersey counties, improved for all three pollutants measured in the American Lung Association’s 2024 “State of the Air” report, including setting new best-ever values for ozone smog for the third consecutive year and for year-round particle pollution for the second straight year. Despite the improvement in ozone, the metro area was named 35th most polluted in the nation and worst for the measure in the Mid-Atlantic region (defined for this report as DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA, WV).

The metro area’s worst grade for short-term particle pollution was a “C” in Philadelphia County, ranking the metro area at 73rd most polluted in the nation, an improvement over the area’s worst grade (a “D” in Delaware County, PA) and 55th worst rank in last year’s report. For the year-round average level of particle pollution, the area’s worst counties, Delaware and Philadelphia, PA, and Camden, NJ, all received a failing grade for the same levels of pollution above the federal standard. The Philadelphia metro area ranked 65th worst in the nation, better than the area's ranking in last year's report of 46th worst when Camden County alone was worst in the metro area.

The four-county Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ metro area, whose rankings were determined by its worst values recorded in Pennsylvania counties, again improved to its best-ever for ozone, moving from 65th to 79th worst in the U.S. Although the area improved for both the daily and year-round measures of particle pollution, neither was the area’s best-ever result. The daily particle pollution rank improved from 74th to 79th worst, and the year-round, from 79th to 84th worst.

The Lung Association’s 25th annual “State of the Air” report grades 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 includes air quality data from 2020-2022 and is updated to reflect the new annual particle pollution standard that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized in February. 

“In the 25 years that the American Lung Association has been doing our ‘State of the Air’ report, we have seen incredible improvement in the nation’s air quality. Unfortunately, more than 131 million people still live in places with unhealthy levels of air pollution, and New Jersey still has work to do,” said Michael Seilback, Assistant Vice President, Nationwide Advocacy for the Lung Association. “Climate change is making air pollution more likely to form and more difficult to clean up. There are actions we can and must take to improve air quality, including building electrification and reducing air pollution from the transportation and power sectors and calling on EPA to set long-overdue stronger national limits on ozone pollution.” 

Ground-level Ozone Pollution in New Jersey’s counties:

Nine New Jersey counties posted their best results for ozone in the 2024 report. Three counties matched their previous best values (Essex with a “B” for 0.7 unhealthy air days per year, and Morris and Warren, repeating “A” grades for zero days). The other six counties reported their best values ever (Atlantic, Hunterdon and Passaic earning their first “A’s,” Camden and Middlesex, each with their second passing grades and first “C’s,” and Bergen improving from 5.0 to 3.7 days with unhealthy levels of ozone per year, but continuing at “F”). Cumberland County also improved from “C” to “B,” but did not do as well as its previous best.

Nevertheless, the remaining five graded counties all posted worse values. Four retained their grades in last year’s report: Gloucester, Hudson, and Ocean, all with “C’s,” and Mercer with “F.” Monmouth County worsened from “C” to “D.”

Particle Pollution in New Jersey’s counties:

For the daily measure of fine particle pollution, twelve of the fourteen counties earning grades remained unchanged, five of them earning “A’s” (Cumberland and Hunterdon for the 5th year in a row, Hudson for a 6th, Morris for its 10th, and Gloucester for its 13th consecutive “A” grade). The other seven all earned “B” grades. In addition, only one county worsened (Atlantic, from an “A” to a “B”), and only one improved (Warren County, from 0.7 days with unhealthy levels of particle pollution to 0.3 days, retaining its “B” grade).

For the year-round measure of fine particle pollution, only eight New Jersey counties had enough data to be graded.  Seven other counties had collected data at least sometime during 2020-2022, but it was insufficient for the purpose of calculating their long-term average values for that period. Seven other counties collected data at least sometime during 2020-2022, but it was insufficient to calculate their long-term average values for that period. Of counties with data, changes from last year’s posted values were all small.  Seven counties earned passing grades, six with values below the new federal standard (Atlantic, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Ocean, and Warren), and one (Union), with the state’s only unchanged value, just passing at the standard. Only Mercer and Warren Counties posted worse year-round averages. Only one New Jersey county, Camden, failed for annual particle pollution, but it also improved the most of all the state’s counties for the measure.

The “State of the Air” report found that nationally, more than 131 million people live in an area that received a failing grade for at least one measure of air pollution, and 43.9 million people live in areas with failing grades for all three measures. In the three years covered by this report, individuals in the U.S. experienced the highest number of days when particle pollution reached “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” levels in the history of reporting the “State of the Air.” Communities of color are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air and are also more likely to be living with one or more chronic conditions that make them more vulnerable to air pollution, including asthma, diabetes and heart disease. The report found that a person of color in the U.S. is more than twice as likely as a white individual to live in a community with a failing grade on all three pollution measures. 

Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, preterm births and impaired cognitive functioning later in life. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.  

EPA recently finalized new air pollution rules that will help clean up particle pollution and address climate change. Now, the Lung Association is urging EPA to set long overdue stronger national limits on ozone pollution. Stronger limits would help people protect themselves and drive cleanup of polluting sources across the country. See the full report results and sign the petition at Lung.org/SOTA

Get involved and help the mission of American Lung Association. The LUNG FORCE Walk New Jersey is coming up on September 14, 2024 at Duke Island Park in Bridgewater. Learn more at LUNGFORCE.org/newjersey.

For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
717-971-1123
[email protected]

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