Hampton Roads, for First Time, Ranks among Cleanest Metro Areas in U.S. for Ozone Smog; Worsens from Last Year’s Best for Year-round Particle Pollution, Finds 2021 ‘State of the Air’ Report

for 6th year, Virginia Beach-Norfolk on list of cleanest U.S. cities for daily measure of fine particle pollution

“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 Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC Metro Area - For the first time ever, Hampton Roads reported zero high ozone days (an “A” grade) in 2017-2019, placing the city among the cleanest in the nation for this pollutant. Both Hampton City and Suffolk City, the only places monitored for ozone in the metro area, improved to post zero unhealthy days for ozone smog, each having recorded identical lowest average numbers of unhealthy air days—0.7 days (a “B” grade)—for the previous three reports. 

“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 the Virginia Beach-Norfolk, VA-NC Metro Area  “State of the Air” 2021 found that year-round particle pollution levels in Hampton Roads worsened in 2017-2019, breaking a 10-year streak of consecutive years of improvement. Norfolk City posted a worse annual level of 6.9 µg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter), slightly worse than its and Virginia Beach City’s shared best-ever value of 6.7 µg/m3 in the 2020 report, levels that easily meet the national air quality standard.   

The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. For the sixth year in a row, all three independent cities in the metro area with daily monitoring data (Hampton, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach) reported zero days (an “A” grade) with unhealthy levels of fine particle pollution.  The metro area again 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 Hampton Roads, air pollution placed the health of the nearly two 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 Lung.org/sota-petition 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]

Freedom From Smoking Clinic
, | Sep 29, 2021
COPD Educator Course
, | Oct 20, 2021