Air Pollution in New Jersey: Nearly All of State in Metro Areas that Rank Among Worst 25 in Nation for Both Ozone Smog and Year-round Particle Pollution

Although Most Counties Improve, Eight Earn “F” Grades for Ozone, Finds 2021 ‘State of the Air’ Report

 This year’s “State of the Air” report from the American Lung Association finds that the state’s two major metro areas ranked among the worst in the nation for two pollutant measures:   

For ozone smog, both the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD and New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA metro areas, comprising all but one of the state’s 21 counties, continued on the list of the nation’s worst 25 metro areas, this year ranking 21st worst and 14th worst, respectively, because of high weighted average numbers of days in Philadelphia and Bucks Counties, PA and in Fairfield County, CT also respectively.  Though counties outside the state drove the poor ranking figures, eight Garden State counties continued to earn “F” grades.  

For the long-term measure of particle pollution, the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area continued on the worst-25 list, posting the same worst year-round average in Delaware County, PA but improving in rank from 12th worst to 17th worst in the country. But the New York-Newark metro area showed a significant worsening in the average particle pollution value for Bergen County, NJ with the result that the metro area’s ranking worsened from 36th worst to 20th worst, landing that metro area on the list of the nation’s 25 most polluted metro areas. 

Nevertheless, air quality in New Jersey generally improved for ozone smog and also slightly for year-round fine particle pollution, although there were exceptions. Nearly all New Jersey counties with available measurements posted zero days high in fine particles, and only four counties worsened for any measure. See the full report, based on the three years of data from 2017 through 2019, at 

The worst grades in the state were Camden County’s “C” for the daily measure of particle pollution and Bergen County’s “F” for ozone smog. “The grades in Bergen and Camden show room for improvement and more must be done to protect the health of people at risk,” said American Lung Association National AVP, State Public Policy, Michael Seilback. “There are still dozens of days when the air pollution levels are high enough to harm health and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and stroke, placing children, older adults, and people living with chronic lung and heart disease at particular risk. Ozone and particle pollution are the nation’s most harmful and widespread air pollutants, and both can be deadly. In addition, more exposure to particle pollution is linked to worse health outcomes from COVID-19, including more deaths.” 

“The American Lung Association’s 2021 ‘State of the Air’ report shows that despite some nationwide progress on cleaning up air pollution, more than 40% of Americans live with unhealthy ozone or particle pollution,” said Seilback. “People of color—comprising nearly half of the state’s population—are significantly more likely to breathe polluted air than white people. As the nation works to address climate change and continue reducing air pollution, we must prioritize the health of disproportionately burdened communities.”  

The Lung Association encourages policy makers in New Jersey to join the Transportation and Climate Initiative Program. This commitment would be a big, bold and necessary step forward for public health. The program is an important investment in cleaner, more reliable transportation and a tool to reduce transportation pollution, improve air quality, reduce carbon pollution and improve the health of all New Jersey residents. 

Ozone Pollution in New Jersey:  Compared to the 2020 report, New Jersey experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in 13 of the 15 counties with enough data to be graded for this pollutant. Eight of those counties—Bergen, Camden, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Ocean—continued to earn “F” grades, although all improved. Bergen County came in worst, posting a weighted average number of days high in ozone pollution of 8.3 days for the 2017-2019 period. Only one county in the state worsened—Cumberland, going from a “B” to a “C” grade with an average of 1.0 day per year high in ozone.  

“Ozone pollution can harm even healthy people, but is particularly dangerous for children, older adults and people with lung diseases such as COPD or asthma,” said Seilback. “Breathing ozone-polluted air can trigger asthma attacks in both adults and children with asthma, which can land them in the doctor’s office or the emergency room. Ozone can even shorten people’s lives.”   

Particle Pollution in New Jersey: “State of the Air” 2021 found that year-round particle pollution levels in eight New Jersey counties improved, but mostly be relatively small increments. Two other counties duplicated their reports from last year. All New Jersey counties posting long-term averages were found to be meeting the air quality standard for this pollutant. However, Bergen County, posting a level of 10.3 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) for 2017-2019 period, barely overtook Camden County’s continuing 10.2 µg/m3 as the county with the highest annual average in the state. 

The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The report found that New Jersey statewide recorded the same few number of days (six) as in last year’s report when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels. The state’s worst grade for this measure was again Camden County’s “C” earned for its four days high in this pollutant, but Camden County is no longer in worst place in the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area.  

Even better, the following 12 counties all earned “A” grades for fine particle pollution in this year’s report, posting zero days with average concentrations in the unhealthy ranges, according to the air quality standard: Atlantic, Bergen, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Ocean, and Passaic.  That placed these counties on the list of cleanest counties in the nation for this pollutant. 

“Particle pollution can lodge deep in the lungs and can even enter the bloodstream. It can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes and cause lung cancer,” said Seilback. Particle pollution comes from industry, coal-fired power plants, construction, agriculture, vehicles, wildfires and wood-burning devices.”   

This year’s report found that nationwide, more than four in 10 people (135 million) lived with polluted air, placing their health and lives at risk. In New Jersey, air pollution placed the health of nearly nine 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 than white people, 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 and 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 Val.Gleason at [email protected] or 717-971-1123.  

For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
[email protected]

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