New Report: Massachusetts Air Quality Sees Mixed Progress on Unhealthy Air Pollution

Boston and Springfield metro areas rank among the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution

The 2022 “State of the Air” report, released today by the American Lung Association, finds Massachusetts counties reported improved grades for ozone, but higher particle pollution compared to last year’s report. The Boston-Worcester-Providence metro area, which includes 8 Massachusetts counties improved for ozone for the second year in a row, and ranked as one of the cleanest cities for short-term particle pollution for the third year in a row.

The “State of the Air” report is the Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” that tracks and grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution (also known as smog), annual particle pollution (also known as soot), and short-term spikes in particle pollution, over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2018-2020. See the full report at Lung.org/sota.

“The increased levels of year round particle pollution seen in Massachusetts can harm the health of all of our residents, but particularly at risk are children, older adults, pregnant people and those living with chronic disease. Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer,” said Trevor Summerfield, director of advocacy for the Lung Association in Massachusetts. “Fortunately, the area did see an improvement in the levels of ozone.”

Ground-level Ozone Pollution in Massachusetts
Compared to the 2021 report, the Boston-Worcester-Providence metro area experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. “State of the Air” ranked the metro area as the 47 most polluted city for ozone pollution, which is better compared to their ranking of 40 in last year’s report. 

Notable County Grades on ozone:

  • Throughout the State, no single county received a worsened grade for ozone.
  • The following counties showed improved grades for ozone from the 2021 report to this year’s report: Barnstable (D to C), Essex (D to C), Middlesex (B to A), Norfolk (C to B), Plymouth (D to C), Suffolk (D to C), Worcester (D to C), Hampden (C to B), Hampshire (C to B), Dukes (F to D)
  • Only Bristol county maintained a failing grade. 
  • Every county saw a decrease of unhealthy ozone days
  • All other counties did not collect this data

Particle Pollution in Massachusetts
The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The Boston metro area maintained zero unhealthy days in this year’s report for short-term particle pollution.  However, four counties in the metro area did experience more higher levels of year round particle pollution.  The area is ranked 86th most polluted for year-round particle pollution, slightly better than the ranking of 84 last year.  However the Springfield metro area posted a worse year- round particle pollution level and fell off the Top 25 cleanest list for this pollutant.

Notable county grades on particle pollution: 

  • Throughout the State, all counties maintained A or B grades for short-term particle pollution
  • All counties continued to meet the national standard for year-round particle pollution
  • Counties that measured worsened year-round particle pollution include Essex, Plymouth, Suffolk, Worcester, Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire
  • All other counties did not collect this data

The report found that nationwide, nearly 9 million more people were impacted by deadly particle pollution than reported last year. It also shows more days with “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality than ever before in the two-decade history of this report. Overall, more than 137 million Americans live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. Communities of color are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air. The report found that people of color were 61% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one pollutant, and 3.6 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three pollutants.

The addition of 2020 data to the 2022 “State of the Air” report gives a first look at air quality trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the shutdowns in early 2020, there was no obvious improvement. 

The American Lung Association is calling on the Biden administration to strengthen the national limits on both short-term and year-round particulate matter air pollution. Stronger standards will educate the public about air pollution levels that threaten their health and drive the cleanup of polluting sources in communities across the country. See the full report results and sign the petition at Lung.org/SOTA.

Media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health, clean air and threats to air quality can contact Jennifer Solomon at 516-680-8927 or [email protected]

For more information, contact:

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

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