New York Metro Area Air Still Failing, Lung Association Reports

New York-Newark metro area rejoins list of 25 Most Polluted Cities for Year-Round Particle Pollution

This year’s “State of the Air” report from the American Lung Association finds that the New York metro area rankings were poorer for particle pollution and only slightly better for ozone pollution, two of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution. Nearly all counties in the metro area, with the exception parts of the Hudson Valley, maintained failing grades.  See the full report at

“The New York City metro area has been plagued by harmful air pollutants for decades.  The American Lung Association’s 2021 “State of the Air” report shows that despite some long-term progress, there is still significant work to be done,” said American Lung Association Director for Advocacy in New York Trevor Summerfield. “Not only did this year’s report show worsened particle pollution and ozone for the area, but it 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.”

The Lung Association has and will continue to support New York State’s consideration of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) Program. By joining the TCI Program, New York State would take 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, but especially for New York City and other heavily trafficked metro areas. 

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 in danger of being degraded, 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. 

Ozone Pollution in the New York metro area: Compared to the 2020 report, New York City experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. The slight improvement caused its rank to go from the 12th on the list of “Cities Most Polluted by Ozone” to the 14th.  However, the report continues to show that over 22.5 million residents in the New York Metro area are being exposed to unhealthy air. Four of our 5 boroughs of New York City maintained failing grades for ozone, with Kings County lacking relevant data. Suffolk County remained the worst county for ozone in the metro area (and in New York State) with 26 unhealthy days.

Particle Pollution in the New York metro area: “State of the Air” 2021 found that year-round particle pollution levels in the New York metro area were  higher than in last year’s report, causing it to return to the nation’s “Top 25 Most Polluted by Annual PM List” at number 20 after a brief absence last year. The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The report found that the New York metro area also had more days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels. All 5 boroughs maintained their grades from the 2020 report, with New York County earning a B, while the others earned As. A major component of the New York Metro area’s poor air quality was readings from a new monitor in Fort Lee, New Jersey (Bergen County), at the George Washington Bridge. 

(Our report uses the New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA Consolidated Statistical Area as defined by the U. S. Office of Management and Budget, which includes Bronx, Dutchess, Kings, Nassau, New York, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk, Ulster and Westchester counties in New York; as well as Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, and Union counties in New Jersey; Fairfield, Litchfield, and New Haven, Connecticut; and Monroe and Pike County, Pennsylvania.)

Summerfield continued, “We know that during the COVID-19 pandemic, people across the country  - especially those of us in the New York City community - 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. In New York city, both ozone and particle pollution placed the health of 22.5 million residents at risk, including those who are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, such as older adults, children and people with a lung disease. The report also shows that 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. The report also finds that climate change made air quality worse and harder to clean up.

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 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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