By The American Lung Association
The American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 report, an annual scorecard of air quality in the nation’s cities and counties, finds that while New Jersey has shown distinct improvements in the report’s measurement of ozone (smog) and daily and year-round particle pollution (soot), the two multi-state metro areas covering 18 of the state’s 21 counties continued to be ranked among the nation’s worst for air pollution:
• The four-state Philadelphia-Camden-Vineland metro area, which includes five New Jersey counties, was listed as 16th most polluted city for ozone, 22nd and 10th worst for daily and year-round particle pollution, respectively.
• The four-state New York-Newark-Bridgeport metro area, which claims 13 New Jersey counties including Monmouth County, was ranked as 15th worst for smog, but finished better than the worst 25 for both measures of soot pollution.
• Even as ozone levels improved in absolute terms, Philadelphia-Camden-Vineland’s and New York-Newark-Bridgeport’s ranks worsened from 20th and 17th worst in last year’s report, respectively. In contrast, the latter area’s particle pollution ranks improved markedly from 33rd to 46th worst with respect to “bad air days,” and from 21st to 35th worst for the annual averages.
However, the state’s average air quality for ozone and daily particle pollution was at its cleanest since the organization’s first annual report 12 years ago.
New Jersey’s other positive findings:
• For the first time, New Jersey is represented on the American Lung Association’s list of the nation’s cleanest counties for daily (short-term) particle pollution. Four counties – Atlantic, Essex, Gloucester, and Middlesex – earned the state’s first “A’s,” with no unhealthful days in 2008-10, the report’s years of measurement.
• For the first time, New Jersey posted no failing grades for particle pollution:
• The worst short-term grade was a “C,” none of the 13 counties with monitored results had worse absolute levels, and nine of those posted improved grades.
• All 12 counties posting annual averages for particle pollution not only continued for a fifth year of earning only “Pass” grades, but also showed improvement in their absolute levels, already attaining the most stringent health-based standard endorsed by the American Lung Association.
• All but one county (Gloucester) posted improvements in the number of bad air days for ozone compared with the previous report.
State of the Air 2012 shows that we’re making steady progress in cutting dangerous pollution from the air as a result of cleanup efforts required under the Clean Air Act,” said Deb Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “But millions of Americans across the country, including the citizens of New Jersey, are still forced to breathe unhealthy levels of air pollution as a result of air quality standards that are outdated.”
The report details the trend that standards set under the Clean Air Act to clean up major air pollution sources – including coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, and SUVs – are working to drastically cut ozone and particle pollution from the air. Despite the improvements, the job of cleaning the air is not finished. More than 40 percent of people in the United States live in areas where air pollution continues to threaten their health. That means more than 127 million people are living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution that can cause wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death. Those at greatest risk from air pollution include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung diseases like asthma, people with heart disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.
“Particle pollution can be deadly,” said Kevin M. Stewart, director of environmental health of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “When you breathe particle pollution, you are inhaling a toxic mix of chemicals, metals, aerosols, ash, and diesel exhaust. It can cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, emergency room visits and even premature death. There is absolutely no question regarding the need to protect public health from particle pollution.”
Ozone (smog), the most widespread air pollutant, is created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources. “When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs, like a bad sunburn,” said Stewart. “It can cause immediate health problems and continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death.”
Although air quality improvements clearly result from standards put into place under the Clean Air Act, big polluters and some members of Congress continue to propose to dismantle the law. Recent proposals in the Congress have included delaying implementation and blocking enforcement of parts of the law, and limiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to consider all of the scientific evidence regarding the harm to public health. These challenges come despite EPA’s estimate that cutting
air pollution through the Clean Air Act will prevent at least 230,000 deaths and save $2 trillion annually by 2020.
“Dangerous and potentially deadly levels of smog and particle pollution continue to affect public health,” said Brown. “Cleanups have resulted in healthier air to breathe in other parts of the country, but people in New Jersey and more than 40 percent of our nation are still breathing dangerously polluted air. We must continue to fight for clean air and demand the full implementation of the Clean Air Act.”
The American people support the need for stricter limits on air pollution standards and the authority of the EPA to enforce these standards. A recent bipartisan survey found that about two-thirds of voters (66 percent) favor the EPA updating air pollution standards by setting stricter limits. Nearly three quarters (73 percent) of voters believe the nation does not have to choose between air quality and a strong economy.
State of the Air 2012 grades cities and counties based, in part, on the color-coded Air Quality Index developed by the EPA to alert the public to daily unhealthy air conditions. The 13th annual report uses the most recent, quality-controlled EPA data collected from 2008 through 2010 from official monitors for ozone and particle pollution, the two most widespread types of air pollution. Counties are graded for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels. The report also uses EPA’s calculations for year-round particle 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 www.stateoftheair.org.