Connecticut Remains “Tailpipe of the Nation,” Lung Association Reports

Hartford metro area and Fairfield county both mark another year on “Most Polluted Cities” Lists for Unhealthy Levels of Air Pollution

This year’s “State of the Air” report from the American Lung Association finds that Connecticut reported minimal progress on air pollution throughout its counties and metro areas.  Both Hartford metro area and Fairfield county remain on the lists of places most polluted for ozone, with Hartford tied for the 24th most polluted city, and Fairfield county ranking as the 19th most polluted county for ozone in the nation – and the only one of the top 25 not in the Western states.  The report measures ozone and particle pollution in metro areas and counties throughout the country, as two of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution. See the full report at Lung.org/sota.

“The State of Connecticut has been plagued by harmful air pollutants for decades.  The American Lung Association’s 2021 “State of the Air” report shows that while long-term trends show gradual progress, there is still significant work to be done,” said American Lung Association Director for Advocacy in Connecticut Ruth Canovi. “Not only did this year’s report show continued unhealthy levels of ozone, but it also showed worsened year-round particle pollution in several areas.  It also reinforced what we already know: that people of color are significantly more likely to breathe polluted air. Our elected officials must take bold action now recognizing climate change, and its impact on worsened air pollution, as a serious public health concern.”

Overall, the report reinforced the fact that emissions from factories, power plants, diesel- and gasoline-powered motor vehicles (cars and trucks) and equipment play a role in forming ozone and generating dangerous fine particle pollution.  Together, with the rising temperatures due to climate change air quality in the United States is likely to face continued challenges, and residents across the country are at an increased risk of air pollution harming health. In addition, studies show that air pollution exposure is linked to greater risk of respiratory infections, including some evidence that suggests that exposure to air pollution may make people more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. 

The Lung Association recently applauded Connecticut’s administration for joining the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) Program. We now call on the General Assembly to codify the state’s participation in the program into law.  By joining the TCI Program, Connecticut is taking a big, bold and necessary step forward for public health. The program is an important tool to reduce transportation pollution, improve air quality, reduce the carbon pollution that causes climate change, improve health and invest in cleaner, faster and more reliable public transportation.  It stands to make a significant impact throughout the state for the coming years, but especially urban centers disproportionately impacted by the burden of poor air quality.  

Notable County Grades on ozone:

  • Fairfield County remains the most polluted County in the New York-Newark metro area, 21 days of unhealthful levels of ozone. It also has the highest ozone readings in the eastern US. 
  • All counties reported improved levels of ozone, with the exception of Tolland which remained the same.  Few recorded a change significant enough to change their grades.
  • Six out of 8 counties throughout the State maintained failing grades for unhealthy levels of ozone (despite slightly improved levels), including Windham, Middlesex, New London, Tolland, Fairfield, and New Haven.
  • The following counties showed improved grades for ozone from the 2020 report to this year’s report: Hartford (F to D), Litchfield (F to C).

Notable county grades on particle pollution: 

  • Litchfield County was the only county in Connecticut to see an improved grade for short-term particle pollution.
  • Fairfield and New Haven Counties earned a worsened grade for short-term particle pollution, with Fairfield tracking the most unhealthy days for short-term particle pollution in the New York-Newark metro area.
  • New London and Hartford maintained A grades for short-term particle pollution.
  • All counties continued to meet the national standard for year-round particle pollution.
  • Both Hartford and New Haven counties measured worsened year-round particle pollution. 
  • Counties that measured improved year-round particle pollution include Fairfield and Litchfield.
  • All other counties did not collect this data.

Canovi continued, “We know that during the COVID-19 pandemic, people across the country are facing multiple threats to their lung health at once, including from unhealthy air pollution. It’s critical to keep looking at the state of our air quality and the things that impact it – like climate change and emissions.  We simply must do more to protect and preserve everyone’s right to breathe clean, healthy air and protect themselves from harmful air pollution.”

The year’s report found that nationwide, more than 4 in 10 people (135 million) lived with polluted air, placing their health and lives at risk. The report shows that nationally people of color were 61% more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air, and three times more likely to live in a county that failed all three air quality grades.  In Connecticut, there are more than 700,000 residents living with lung diseases like asthma, COPD and lung cancer, as well as heart disease.  They are already at risk, making them more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution. 

The Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” tracks and grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of particle pollution (also known as soot) and ozone (smog) over a three-year period – this year’s report covers 2017-2019. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: average annual levels and short-term spikes. Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and are linked to developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.

Learn more about “State of the Air” at Lung.org/sota and sign the petition for the Biden Administration to promote clean air, a safe climate and environmental justice. Media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health, clean air and threats to air quality can contact Jennifer Solomon at [email protected] or 516-680-8927. 

For more information, contact:

Jennifer Solomon
(516) 680-8927
[email protected]

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