For fourth year, Hampton Roads posts best results ever for all three measures of air pollution, finds 2018 State of the Air Report

For third year, Virginia Beach-Norfolk on cleanest U.S. cities list for daily measure of fine particle pollution, according to American Lung Associations 19th annual air quality report

The American Lung Association’s 2018 "State of the Air" report found that year-round fine particle pollution levels in the 2-state, 21-city-and-county Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC metro area and throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic continued their steady improvement when compared with last year’s report.  For ozone air pollution, the area equaled last year's best performance ever for its jurisdiction with the worst weighted average number of days with unhealthful air quality.  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. 

For the eighth consecutive year, the Virginia Beach-Norfolk metro area both met the current national standard for year-round particle pollution and posted its best-ever results for this measure.  According to the 19th annual "State of the Air" report, the metro area ranked 134th worst of 187 across the country, a slight improvement from its ranking of 129th worst in last year's report.

For the daily measure of fine particle pollution, not only did the metro area’s worst mark show improvement or equal last year’s performance for the eighth consecutive year, but for the third year in a row, all three jurisdictions monitored for this measure (the independent cities of Hampton, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach) continued at “A” with zero days of unhealthful air quality, placing the metro area on the list of “Cleanest Cities” in the country for this pollutant.  The metro area’s rank also improved, from 100th worst last year to 112th worst of 201 metro areas in the current report, with fewer areas nationwide being tied for “Cleanest.”

For ozone, the past three years of reports with continued improvement reached a standstill, with the best-ever mark in last year’s report holding steady for the metro area. While Hampton City recorded the same value as it did last year, Suffolk City equaled that mark, posting marginally worse results than in last year’s report.  As many other areas, including many on or near the Atlantic seaboard, also had problems with ozone increases, the metro area’s rank nevertheless improved a bit from 119th worst last year to 122nd worst of 227 in the current report. 

Compared to the 2017 report, the Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC metro area, as it continues gradual improvement in year-round particle pollution, has seen difficulty in ensuring there is never a day with a level of ozone pollution that is unhealthful.  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.

“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone in the Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC metro area can still occasionally 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 Virginia 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 the Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC metro area
Compared to the 2017 report, the Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC metro area showed a marginal uptick in the number of days of poor air quality for ozone pollution, in Suffolk City.  Along with Hampton City, these independent cities each earned a grade of “B” for their performance.  

“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 the Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC metro area
Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. 
In all three jurisdictions monitored in the metro area for fine particle pollution, the 2018 report also found that year-round levels were distinctly lower than in the 2017 report and all were much better than the national standard.  This showed a steady improvement for three report years for Hampton, eight years for Norfolk and 11 years for Virginia Beach.

“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, the same three cities had zero days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels in 2014-2016.  They continued their streak among the nation’s cleanest counties and independent cities for at least the third straight year, again putting the metro area on the list of the country’s “Cleanest Cities” for this measure.

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 Virginia’s rankings, as well as air quality in Hampton Roads 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 Virginia Communications Director Ewa Dworakowski by calling 717-971-1123 or 717-503-3903 (cell) or emailing [email protected].

For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
[email protected]

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