Soot Pollution Levels Better or Same in Almost Every County; All Graded Counties in State Get “F’s” for Smog Except for One “D”
The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2014” report released today finds that the air in New Jersey, split between two metropolitan areas, had worse levels of ozone, commonly called smog, in every county for which values could be calculated, but fared well in particle pollution throughout the state, reporting uniformly passing grades, with nearly half of values improving since last year.
Editor’s Note: Updated trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades will be available on April 30 at http://www.stateoftheair.org/.
The 2014 report, based on data for the three-year period of 2010-2012, showed passing grades in both year-round and short-term (daily) particle pollution for all counties where samples were collected. The news wasn’t good, however, for ozone as every county reporting – but Passaic, with a “D” – was graded “F,” reversing a gradually decreasing trend since 2005-2007. An increase in unhealthful ozone days was recorded in every county posting results and can likely be attributed to warmer and sunnier days in 2012, a nationwide trend.
“The air in the New Jersey is markedly cleaner than it was after the first ‘State of the Air’ report 15 years ago,” said Deb Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “More needs to be done, however, as we have seen increases in ozone, the worst since 2009-2010. We must set stronger health standards for pollutants and clean up sources of pollution across New Jersey to protect the health of our citizens.”
The New York-Newark ranking worsened to 12th from a tie for 17th most ozone-polluted area in the nation. For year-round particle pollution, the area worsened from 45th last year to a tie for 13th, and for short-term (daily) pollution, from 55th last year to a tie for 16th this year, the precipitous decline driven by poorer air quality in the newly included Lehigh Valley area of eastern Pennsylvania. The northern New Jersey counties included in the 35-county New York-Newark, NY-NJ-PA-CT area were Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union and Warren.
New Jersey’s southern counties were included in the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD area that area tied for 11th most polluted for year-round particle pollution, improving from last year by reporting reduced levels, but retaining its rank. The area had fewer unhealthful days for its best report ever in short-term pollution, but ranked 26th in the nation after 29th last year. Rankings worsened partly because some higher-ranking metro areas were consolidated, and partly because some other cities had more improvement. Ozone was worse in southern New Jersey, ranking 16th most polluted in the nation after tying for 20th worst last year. New Jersey counties included in the 16-county metro area were Atlantic, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Gloucester and Salem.
Some of the improved results for particle pollution can be traced to cleaner diesel engines and power plants that have replaced or eliminated older, more polluting equipment. These changes have resulted in less year-round particle pollution – sending it to its lowest level since the annual report began – and in the fewest unhealthful days ever for short-term particle pollution.
“Ozone and particle pollution, combined and separately, present real threats to Americans’ health and for decades worsened until the Clean Air Act began to reverse the tide,” said Kevin M. Stewart, director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “We track the levels of these hazards using data gleaned from state and local air pollution control agencies, which are reviewed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and validated for use.
“Ozone, commonly called smog, and fine particle pollution, which is composed of soot, dust and aerosols, are measured, and counties in the Mid-Atlantic region are graded ‘A’ to ‘F’ for each category where sufficient data exists,” he said.
Stewart said ozone is a powerful respiratory irritant that sears lung tissue, and even at relatively low levels, can affect even healthy people’s ability to breathe. Fine particle pollution, more formally called PM2.5 because it is particulate matter with an aerodynamic diameter of 2.5 microns or less, is made up of complex bits of solid or liquid matter that are typically no larger than one-thirtieth the width of a human hair.
“Particle pollution can cause serious health problems even at relatively low concentrations and is responsible for tens of thousands of premature deaths in the U.S. each year,” he said. “They are tiny enough to penetrate the body’s natural defense systems and become embedded in the lungs. Some have been shown to enter the bloodstream. Hundreds of peer-reviewed studies have linked particle pollution to a myriad of health problems.”
The data on air quality throughout the United States were obtained from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality System (AQS), formerly called Aerometric Information Retrieval System (AIRS) database.
The Lung Association led the fight for a new, national air quality standard that strengthened outdated limits on annual levels of particle pollution, announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in December 2012. Thanks to air pollution health standards like this, set under the Clean Air Act and the EPA’s enforcement of these standards, the U.S. has seen continued reductions in air pollution.
“The evidence is clear that the Clean Air Act delivers significant health benefits,” said Brown. “Congress needs to continue to ensure that the provisions under the Clean Air Act are protected and enforced. The EPA and every state must have adequate funding to monitor and protect our citizens from air pollution.”
Cleaning up major air pollution sources through steps such as the cleaner gasoline and cleaner vehicle standards will drastically cut both ozone and particle pollution. That means more health protections for more than 147.6 million people, 47 percent of the nation’s population, who live where pollution levels are too often dangerous to breathe. That is an increase of almost 16 million people from last year’s report. Nearly 28 million people in the U.S. live in counties where the outdoor air quality failed all three pollution tests.
Those at greatest risk from air pollution include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung disease such as asthma, people with heart disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.
The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2014” report is an annual, national air quality “report card.” The 2014 report – the 15th annual release – uses the most recent quality-assured air pollution data, compiled by the EPA in 2010, 2011, and 2012. These data come from the official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone (smog) and particle pollution (PM2.5, also known as soot). The report grades counties and ranks cities and counties based on their scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels.
The American Lung Association in New Jersey urges the public to join the fight for clean air and to learn how to protect themselves and their families from air pollution by visiting http://www.stateoftheair.org/.
About the American Lung Association
Now in its second century, the American Lung Association is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. With your generous support, the American Lung Association is “Fighting for Air” through research, education and advocacy. For more information about the American Lung Association, a Charity Navigator Four Star Charity and holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872) or visit www.lungusa.org.