New Jersey Air Quality Gets Failing Grade

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STATE –   Over 8.5 million New Jerseyans – everyone except residents of Cape May County – live in metropolitan areas that received failing grades in the American Lung Association’s tenth annual State of the Air report, released Tuesday.  

The report ranks cities most affected by three types of widespread and dangerous pollution: short-term (24-hour) particle pollution, year-round particle pollution and ozone pollution. Counties are graded “A” through “F” for each category when sufficient validated records exist over the three-year period 2005 through 2007.   Science shows that the air quality in counties earning “F’s” is dirty enough to endanger lives.

Middlesex County earned an “F” for ozone pollution and a “C” for particle pollution, while Union County earned an “F” for particle pollution and did not have sufficient data to receive an ozone pollution grade.

“Taking decisive action to clean our air must be a top public health priority,” said Deborah Brown, vice president of community outreach and advocacy for the American Lung Association. “Our failing grades mean that the health and lives of nearly everyone who lives and works in New Jersey are at risk. Now is the time to step up our response to dirty air pollution sources such as poorly controlled fossil-fueled power plants and diesel engines. Individuals can also do their part by driving less, avoiding burning wood or trash, cutting back on electricity use, and encouraging schools to use cleaner buses and to reduce idling.”  

For short-term particle pollution, the New York-Newark-Bridgeport metro area’s worst locale was Union County, whose weighted average of 12 “bad air” days per year led it to rank as 19th worst county in the nation, and the metro area to rank 16th worst in the U.S.   Bergen, Essex, and Hudson counties were the three other counties that earned “F’s” in this metro area.   Camden County also earned an “F” for this pollutant measure, and the Philadelphia metro area of which it is part ranked 20th worst in the country.

Compared with the previous two years of short-term particle pollution weighted averages, this year’s results were fairly stagnant, with three counties (Middlesex, Union, and Warren) posting their best results, three (Hudson, Mercer, and Passaic) posting their worst numbers, and six other counties tying a value from a prior year.

For the second straight report year, all twelve graded counties passed the test for long-term particle pollution, with four counties (Hudson, Mercer, Ocean, and Union) posting their lowest levels ever, although the improvements were small.   Nevertheless, 13 New Jersey counties lie in the New York-Newark-Bridgeport metro area, ranked 22nd worst in the country for this pollutant.

While New Jersey’s ozone levels, measured in absolute terms, have dropped dramatically over the past few report years, the standard that was in use since 1997 had been shown to be inadequate to protect public health.   As a result, the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adopted a somewhat more protective standard for ozone in 2008, and this year’s report is the first in which the American Lung Association adopts the new standard.  

The report presents some staggering statistics for New Jersey, estimating that residents who are most at risk of breathing dangerous levels of air pollution include:

  • 2,044,000 children and 1,115,000 seniors,
  • 186,000 children and 544,000 adults with asthma,
  • 225,000 with chronic bronchitis and 113,000 with emphysema,
  • 2,407,000 with cardiovascular disease, and          
  • 519,000 with diabetes.

“This report should be a wake-up call, that we can no longer consider air pollution a nuisance but rather a major threat to health right here in New Jersey,” stated John Rutkowski, chair of the Board of Directors of the American Lung Association.   “When we and our families are left breathing air dirty enough to send people to the emergency room, to affect how kids’ lungs develop and to kill, air pollution remains a serious problem that must be addressed.”

To minimize exposure to ozone and particle pollution, the American Lung Association in New Jersey recommends:

  • Check local air quality forecasts. Find these in media reports or by going to www.epa.gov/airnow.
  • Avoid exercising near high-traffic areas; Avoid exercising outdoors when pollution levels are high or substitute an activity that requires less exertion.
  • Don’t smoke indoors and support measures to make all places smokefree.
  • Reduce or eliminate the practice of burning trash or wood.

For more information on your community’s grades in the State of the Air: 2009 report, go to: www.lungusa.org or www.stateoftheair.org.


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