New Report: Washington-Baltimore-Arlington Metro Air Quality Generally Improved, but Area Continues to Earn Failing Grade for Ozone Smog; Residents Exposed to More Unhealthy Days of Particle Pollution

American Lung Association “State of the Air” Report finds the metro area rankings for air quality improved for all three measures evaluated.

The 2022 “State of the Air” report, released today by the American Lung Association, finds that the Washington-Baltimore-Arlington rankings all improved for some of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution: particle pollution and ozone.  Nevertheless, the metro area’s ozone continues with an “F” grade, ranking 30th most polluted in the country, and the area also broke a 16-year streak of not posting a worse average number of days for fine particle pollution than in the previous year’s report, as it dropped from a “B” grade to a “C”. The metro area ranks 63rd worst in the country for the daily particle pollution measure. 

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 levels of ozone and particle pollution seen in in the Washington-Baltimore-Arlington metro area 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 Aleks Casper, Director of Advocacy for the Lung Association. “Fortunately, the area did see improvements in the levels of both daily ozone smog and year-round fine particle pollution, matching the previous best ever recorded in the 2017 report for ozone and newly reaching the area’s best-ever average level of fine particles.” 

Ground-level Ozone Pollution in Washington-Baltimore-Arlington Metro Area 

Compared to the 2021 report, the Washington-Baltimore-Arlington metro area experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report, matching the area’s best-ever performance of two years ago. “State of the Air” ranked the metro area as the 30th most polluted city for ozone smog, better compared to its ranking of 22nd in last year’s report. The area continued to receive an “F” grade for ozone pollution. 

Particle Pollution in Washington-Baltimore-Arlington Metro Area 

The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The Washington-Baltimore-Arlington metro area’s short-term particle pollution got worse in this year’s report, which means there were more unhealthy days—representing the first time the area’s daily particle pollution level worsened over the previous year since the 2005 report. Despite worsening from a “B” to a “C” grade, the area’s rank improved from 57th to 63rd worst because of the increase in the number of areas in the western United States with high levels in this year’s report. 

In contrast, the 2022 “State of the Air” found that year-round particle pollution levels in the Washington-Baltimore-Arlington metro area, after an increase in last year’s report, returned to their previous long-term trend of improving over the previous year’s report, and reached their best-ever value. The area was ranked 75th most polluted for year-round particle pollution—much better than its ranking of 39th last year.  

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 Val Gleason at [email protected] or 717-971-1123. 

For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
717-971-1123
[email protected]

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