Ozone Air Pollution in New Jersey: Nearly All of State in Metro Areas Ranking Among Worst 25 in Nation; Although Most Counties Improve, Nine Earn “F” Grades, Finds 2020 ‘State of the Air’ Report

American Lung Association’s annual air quality report finds nearly half of Americans breathing unhealthy air

Editor’s Note: The full report, as well as UPDATED trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades WILL BE available at www.Lung.org/SOTA beginning at 12:01 a.m. EDT April 21, 2020.

The American Lung Association’s 2020 “State of the Air” report found that air quality in New Jersey generally improved, even as the state’s major metro areas continued to rank among the worst in the nation for ozone smog. Fine particle pollution levels usually continued their steady improvement, although rankings for the year-round levels of this pollutant remain poor.

For ozone smog, all counties but Warren County were in metro areas that ranked among the worst 25 in the nation: Thirteen North Jersey counties fell into the 12th worst metro area (New York-Newark), and the metro area including seven South Jersey counties (Philadelphia-Reading-Camden) came in at 23rd worst. Because of improvements in those metro areas’ worst counties (Fairfield County, CT, and Bucks County, PA, respectively), the rankings were slightly improved in each case.

The report also found that the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area, while still meeting the national air quality standard for year-round particle pollution, posted a slightly worse average level and ranked among the worst in the country for this pollutant—falling from 18th to 12th worst. In contrast the New York-Newark metro area’s highest year-round average improved for the third straight year, and its ranking also improved, from 30th to 36th worst for this measure.

The 21st annual air quality “report card” tracks Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of ozone smog and fine particle pollution, both of which can be deadly. The report also found that 13 New Jersey counties equaled or newly posted their fewest number of days high in particle pollution—12 of them earning “A” grades for zero days—and only one county (Camden, posting a “C” and tying for the worst county in the Philadelphia metro area) earned a grade worse than a “B” in this year’s report.

The “State of the Air” report looks at data for particle pollution and ozone during a three-year period. Once again, the report found that nearly half of all Americans were exposed to unhealthy air in 2016-2018. In New Jersey, ozone air pollution placed the health of some 8.9 million residents at risk, including those who are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution such as older adults, children and those with a lung disease.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, which has been responsible for dramatic improvements in air quality. However, New Jersey residents continue to breathe some of the most unhealthy air in the country, driven by emissions from vehicles and industrial sources, both locally generated as well as from upwind, placing their health and lives at risk,” said American Lung Association Director of Environmental Health Kevin Stewart. “Furthermore, with nearly half of Americans breathing unhealthy air, our ‘State of the Air’ report shows that nationally, because of climate change, the nation is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting public health.”

Each year the “State of the Air” provides 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 asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer, and new research links air pollution to the development of serious diseases, such as asthma and dementia.

This year’s report covers 2016, 2017 and 2018, the years with the most recent quality-assured data available collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies. Notably, those three years were among the five hottest recorded in global history. Rising temperatures can lead to increased levels of ozone pollution. Changing climate patterns also fuel wildfires and their dangerous smoke, which increase particle pollution. Ozone and particle pollution threaten everyone, especially children, older adults and people living with a lung disease. Although this report does not cover data from 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of air pollution on lung health is of heightened concern. Learn more about that at www.Lung.org/covid-19.

Ozone Pollution in New Jersey

 “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.”

This report documents that warmer temperatures brought by climate change are making ozone more likely to form and harder to clean up. Nationwide, significantly more people suffered unhealthy ozone pollution in the 2020 report than in the last three “State of the Air” reports.

However, compared to the 2019 report, most New Jersey counties experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. The following nine counties in the state all earned “F” grades for ozone pollution in this year’s report:  Bergen, Camden, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, and Ocean. Of these, Bergen County had the area’s worst performance, with 28 days of high ozone during the report period. It was tied for the third worst county in the New York-Newark metro area.

Particle Pollution in New Jersey

“State of the Air” 2020 found that year-round particle pollution levels in New Jersey continued to improve in this year’s report, and that even the worse level in the state (in Camden County) still met the national standard for this pollutant. And among all the counties with data in last year’s report, all but one, Mercer, recorded a better average level of fine particle pollution in the 2020 report.

“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, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices.

“Year-round particle pollution levels had dropped in recent years thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines. However, the increase we’ve seen in particle pollution this year in some parts of the nation is a troubling reminder that we must increase our efforts to reduce this dangerous pollution,” said Stewart.

“State of the Air” 2020 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The report found that New Jersey again recorded even fewer days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels. The state’s worst grade for this measure was Camden County’s “C” earned for its four days high in this pollutant, and the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden area’s best performance ever.

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, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, and Warren.  That placed these counties on the list of cleanest counties in the nation for this pollutant.

“We all have the right to breathe clean, healthy air. The 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act serves as a critical reminder that Americans breathe healthier air today because of this landmark law,” said Stewart. “At the same time, this year’s report shows that we must stand up for clean air—especially to safeguard our most vulnerable community members. Our leaders, both here in New Jersey and at the federal level, must take immediate, significant action to ward off climate change and other threats to the quality of the air we all breathe.”

While the report examined data from 2016-2018, this 21st annual report also provides air pollution trends back to the first report. Learn more about the Garden State’s rankings, as well as air quality across the region and the nation, in the 2020 “State of the Air” report at www.Lung.org/SOTA. For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health, healthy air, and threats to air quality, contact Valerie Gleason at [email protected] or 717-971-1123.

For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
[email protected]

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