American Lung Association Report: Richmond Metro Area Drops from 10 Consecutive Years on Cleanest Cities List for 24-Hour Particle Pollution; Again Matches its Best-Ever Record for Ozone Pollution

1 in 3 Nationwide Exposed to Unhealthy Air
The Richmond metro area’s air quality has mixed results since last year’s report, according to the American Lung Association’s 2023 “State of the Air” report, which was released today. Composed of 13 counties and four independent cities, the metro area remained unchanged at its best-ever performance for ozone smog. Nevertheless, the metro area got worse for short-term particle pollution, ranking tied for 118th most polluted for short-term particle pollution, dropping from the cleanest cities list for the measure, after 10 consecutive years on the list. Nationally, the report found that nearly 120 million people, or more than one in three, in the U.S. live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.

The Lung Association’s 24th annual “State of the Air” report grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution, annual particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2019-2021.

“Here in the Richmond metro area and across the nation, we are seeing ozone pollution improving, thanks in big part to the success of the Clean Air Act. But there is more work to do,” said Aleks Casper, Director of Advocacy, VA, MD, DC, DE for the Lung Association. “Even one poor air quality day is one too many for our residents at highest risk, such as children, older adults, individuals who are pregnant and those living with chronic disease. That’s why we are calling on lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels to take action to ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe.”

“The American Lung Association believes that Virginia must continue to enact policies to cut all harmful pollutants and ultimately protect the health and well-being of Virginians, this includes policies that would help Virginia’s transition to zero emission vehicles through continued participation in Advanced Clean Car Standards,” said Casper.

Nationally, the report found that ozone pollution has generally improved across the nation, thanks in large part to the success of the Clean Air Act. However, more work remains to fully clean up harmful pollution, and short-term particle pollution continues to get worse. In addition, some communities bear a greater burden of air pollution. Out of the nearly 120 million people who live in areas with unhealthy air quality, a disproportionate number – more than 64 million (54%) – are people of color. In fact, people of color were 64% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one measure, and 3.7 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three measures. 

Ground-level Ozone Pollution in Richmond Metro Area
Compared to the 2022 report, the Richmond metro area experienced the same number of unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report, matching its best-ever record set in last year’s report. Because of widespread improvement in ozone levels nationwide, “State of the Air” ranked the metro area tied as 111th most polluted city for ozone smog, worse than its ranking tied for 138th in last year’s report. The metro area received a “B” grade for ozone pollution. Chesterfield County, VA displaced Charles City and Henrico Counties, VA as the metro area’s most polluted county for ozone pollution, recording the same fewest ever ozone days on average of 0.3 days in this year’s report as the latter two counties in the previous report. Those two counties now earn ‘A’ grades by posting zero days high in ozone, and join Hanover County, NC as it continues for its 3rd consecutive year to earn an ‘A,’ and remains listed among the nation’s cleanest counties.

Particle Pollution in Richmond Metro Area 
The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. After ten straight years of reporting zero unhealthy particle pollution days and ranking among the nation’s cleanest cities for the short-term measure, the Richmond metro area posted a marginally worse level in this year’s report, which means there were more unhealthy days. The metro area is now ranked 118th worst for short-term particle pollution. Henrico County and Richmond City, VA both worsened for the daily measure of particle pollution, each posting a weighted average of 0.3 days in this year’s report and earning ‘B’ grades for this measure. Meanwhile, both Charles City County and Chesterfield County continued to post ‘A’ grades for the 12th straight year and remain listed among the nation’s cleanest counties for this pollutant measure.

The 2023 “State of the Air” found that the year-round particle pollution level for the worst jurisdiction in the Richmond metro area (Richmond City) remained unchanged since last year’s report and meets the national standard. Because of generally worse levels nationally, the area’s ranking tied for 129th most polluted for year-round particle pollution, an improvement over its ranking tied for 118th last year. 

The American Lung Association is calling on President Biden to urgently move forward on several measures to clean up air pollution nationwide, including new pollution limits on ozone and particle pollution and new measures to clean up power plants and vehicles. See the full report results and sign the petition at Lung.org/SOTA.
For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
717-971-1123
[email protected]

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