Richmond Metro Area Posts Best-ever Marks for All Three Pollutant Measures, Best for 14th Year for Year-round Particle Pollution, Finds 2021 ‘State of the Air’ Report

Days with High Ozone Remain a Threat

This year’s “State of the Air” report from the American Lung Association finds that the Richmond metro area (comprised of 13 counties and four independent cities) improved to its best performance for ozone smog and remained unchanged from last year’s best-ever results for both the short-term (daily) and the long-term (year-round) measures of fine particle pollution. The daily measure for particle pollution earned “A” grades for posting zero days high in this pollutant for the 9th consecutive year. For a 14th year in a row the year-round measure at worst matched the previous year’s best-ever result, and for an 11th year met the national air quality standard. See the full report, based on the three years of data from 2017 through 2019, at . 

The worst grade in the metro area was Henrico County’s above average “B” for ozone smog, for which the metro area reached its best-ever result. “Though we applaud this progress, positive results in Richmond are not guaranteed in future years. The area must continue its work to protect the health of people at risk and the nearly 1.3 million residents in the metro area,” said American Lung Association Director of Environmental Health Kevin Stewart. “One day with unhealthy air is one day too many when air pollution levels are high enough to harm health. Even that one day can 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 Stewart. “People of color 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.”  

Ozone Pollution in the Richmond metro area - compared to the 2020 report, the Richmond metro area experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone county, achieving a new best-ever performance. Henrico County, VA, the most polluted for ozone in the metro area, recorded its fewest high ozone days on average with 0.8 days (a “B” grade, and including a “red” day when air quality was unhealthy for everyone, not only those in high-risk groups) in 2017-2019, an improvement from its average of 1.8 days (a “D”) in 2016-2018. The area’s ranking improved to 118th most polluted in the country from 91st worst in last year’s report. 

“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 Stewart. “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 Richmond metro area “State of the Air” 2021 found that year-round particle pollution levels in the Richmond metro area improved or remained unchanged for the 14th straight year, equaling its best ever average annual level and meeting the standard for this pollutant. Henrico County’s current average is well under the national air quality standards. The metro area’s ranking also remained unchanged at 157th most polluted in the nation.  

The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. For the ninth year in a row, all four jurisdictions in the metro area with daily monitoring data (Charles City, Chesterfield, and Henrico Counties as well as Richmond City) reported zero days (an “A” grade) with unhealthy levels of fine particle pollution.  The metro area therefore remained on the list of the nation’s cleanest metro areas for short-term particle pollution. 

“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 Stewart. Particle pollution comes from industry, coal-fired power plants, construction, agriculture, vehicles, wildfires and wood-burning devices.”   

The 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 the Richmond metro area, air pollution placed the health of nearly 1.3 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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