NEW JERSEY – The 2022 “State of the Air” report, released today by the American Lung Association, finds that the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD and the New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA metro areas, including all but one of the state’s 21 counties, improved to their best-ever results for ozone smog, one of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution.
Nevertheless, the New York-Newark metro area ranked 14th worst in the country for ozone, while the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area ranked 29th worst. The latter metro area also ranked 18th worst in the nation for its most-polluted county’s year-round average level of fine particle pollution.
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 seen in New Jersey 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 Michael Seilback, National AVP, State Public Policy for the Lung Association. “Fortunately, the state did see much improvement in the levels of both ozone and particle pollution but there is much work to be done. We urge Governor Murphy and the legislature to commit to a non-combustion future by moving forward on off-shore wind, and solar power as well as building out an electric vehicle infrastructure to move the transportation fleet to electric and decrease toxic pollutants in our air for a healthier future.”
Ground-level Ozone Pollution in New Jersey Counties
Compared to the 2021 report, most New Jersey counties improved for ozone smog and none got worse, though six counties (Bergen, Camden, Hudson, Mercer, Middlesex, and Ocean) continued to post failing grades. Gloucester and Hunterdon Counties both posted their first passing grades (“D’s”) under the current ozone standard. And Monmouth County produced the state’s first-ever “A” grade for ozone, placing the county among the cleanest in the nation with zero days of unhealthy levels of ozone.
Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD and New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA metro areas experienced their fewest ever unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report, though still earning “F” grades. The Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ metro area (including Warren County with its “B”) also matched its best-ever performance for ozone in this year’s report, with a “C” being that area’s worst grade.
Particle Pollution in New Jersey Counties
Particle pollution levels in the Garden State were generally very good, with only Essex County worsening, doing so for both the daily and year-round measures of this pollutant.
For short-term, daily spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal, Camden County improved the most, from a “C” grade to an “A.” Only three counties (Essex, Union, and Warren, with “B’s”) of the 15 with grades did not earn “A’s” for posting zero days with unhealthy levels of fine particles.
Compared to the 2021 report, Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD improved and New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA got worse for days with unhealthy levels of particle pollution in this year’s report, and ranked 44th and 59th worst in the nation, respectively. Both earned “F” grades. Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ remained unchanged with its “C” grade though its rank improved to 63rd worst.
The 2022 “State of the Air” found that year-round particle pollution levels in New Jersey were almost all slightly better than in last year’s report. Camden County improved the most, and Essex County was the only county that worsened.
The Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area was slightly worse for this measure and ranked 18th most polluted, remaining among the worst 25 cities. In contrast, New York-Newark showed enough improvement to go from 20th worst on last year’s report to 75th. And Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton remained unchanged at its best-ever level and kept it 88th position rank.
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.