TRENTON, NJ (SBN) – All of New Jersey’s 21 counties improved to their best-ever results for ozone smog, one of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution, according to The American Lung Association’s 2023 “State of the Air” report. But the nonprofit group’s report showed that most New Jersey counties posted fine particle pollution levels worse than in last year’s report, for both daily and year-round levels.
Nationally, the report found that nearly 120 million people, or more than one in three, in the U.S. live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.
Hear about the key findings of the report in this audio interview SBN News Director Steve Lubetkin conducted with Michael Seilback, National Assistant Vice President, State Policy for the Lung Association.
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The 31-county New York-Newark metro area, covering 13 New Jersey counties, despite improving for ozone, worsened to 12th worst from 14th worst in the country, driven by the frequent days of high ozone pollution in Fairfield County, CT to which the entire area contributes. This metro area had a worse performance for both the daily and long-term measures of fine particle pollution, ranking 59th and 71st worst in the nation respectively. Union County, NJ continued as the metro area’s most polluted for the long-term measure.
The 16-county Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area, covering 7 New Jersey counties, set new best-ever marks for ozone, now ranking 28th worst, and also for the long-term measure of fine particle pollution, improving to 46th worst having been ranked 18th worst in last year’s report. For the first time, no southern New Jersey county earned an ‘F’ grade for ozone—the worst in the metro area being Philadelphia County’s ‘F.’ However, Camden County, NJ displaced Delaware County, PA as the most polluted in the metro area for year-round fine particles. And, for the 24-hour measure of particle pollution, the worst level remained unchanged in this year’s report (earning a ‘D’ recorded in Delaware County, PA), with the metro area ranking nevertheless improving to 55th most polluted from last year’s 44th place.
The four-county Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ metro area, driven by values recorded in Pennsylvania counties, improved to its best-ever for ozone, ranking 65th worst, but worsened for both measures of fine particle pollution, ranking 74th worst for the daily measure, and 79th worst for the year-round value.
The Lung Association’s 24th annual “State of the Air” report grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution, annual particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2019-2021.
“Here in New Jersey and across the nation, we are seeing ozone pollution improving, thanks in big part to the success of the Clean Air Act. But there is more work to do,” said Seilback. “Even one poor air quality day is one too many for our residents at highest risk, such as children, older adults, pregnant people and those living with chronic disease. That’s why we are calling on Governor Murphy and the state legislature to continue moving forward on policies to ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe. Specifically, we call on New Jersey to finalize the Advanced Clean Cars II standard, continue to strengthen electric vehicle infrastructure, and push forward on efforts to electrify buildings and increase production of clean, green energy.”
Nationally, the report found that ozone pollution has generally improved across the nation, thanks in large part to the success of the Clean Air Act. However, more work remains to fully clean up harmful pollution, and short-term particle pollution continues to get worse. In addition, some communities bear a greater burden of air pollution. Out of the nearly 120 million people who live in areas with unhealthy air quality, a disproportionate number – more than 64 million (54%) – are people of color. In fact, people of color were 64% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one measure, and 3.7 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three measures.
Ground-level Ozone Pollution in New Jersey Counties
Compared to the 2022 report, most New Jersey counties improved for ozone smog but two (Cumberland and Monmouth) got worse. Compared to six counties in last year’s report, only two (Bergen and Mercer) continued to post failing grades. Four counties—Camden, Hudson, Middlesex, and Ocean—all posted their first passing grades (“D”, “C,” “D,” and “C” respectively) under the current ozone standard. Though Monmouth County lost last year’s first-ever “A” grade in the state for ozone, Morris and Warren Counties earned their first “A” grades with zero days high in ozone, placing them among the counties cleanest in the nation with zero days of unhealthy levels of ozone.
Particle Pollution in New Jersey Counties
Particle pollution levels in the Garden State generally worsened in this year’s “State of the Air” report. Still, changes were small:
For short-term, daily spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal, eight counties had a worse performance, with five of those (Bergen, Camden, Mercer, Middlesex, Ocean) changing grades, losing their “A’s” in last year’s report for “B’s.” No county improved for this measure, though six (Atlantic, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, and Morris) retained their “A” grades by continuing to post zero days with unhealthy levels of fine particle pollution.
For the year-round measure of fine particle pollution, seven counties—all in northern New Jersey—posted worse values, and two (Atlantic and Camden) remained unchanged, but no county improved, with the remaining twelve counties equally divided between having incomplete data or not collecting any to begin with. Nevertheless, all posted values met the annual standard. Because of improvement this year in the level recorded in Delaware County, PA (10.8 to 8.6 micrograms per cubic meter) and other counties’ values not being too high, Camden County, NJ, remaining unchanged at 10.4 micrograms per cubic meter, took over as worst county in the Philadelphia-Reading-Camden metro area, setting a new record for the metro area’s best performance for this measure.
The American Lung Association is calling on President Biden to urgently move forward on several measures to clean up air pollution nationwide, including new pollution limits on ozone and particle pollution and new measures to clean up power plants and vehicles. See the full report results and sign the petition at Lung.org/SOTA.
Steve Lubetkin is the news director for StateBroadcastNews.com. Steve’s journalism background includes print and broadcast reporting for NJ news organizations. He refocused on multimedia journalism and podcast production after a long career in corporate branded journalism and public relations.
He has won numerous awards for his audio and video news reporting from the Garden State Journalists Association, and he has also been recognized for video by the New Jersey Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He has produced a wide range of audio and video podcasts in his other role as managing partner of State Broadcast News’s parent, The Lubetkin Media Companies.
Steve is co-author, with Toronto-based podcasting pioneer Donna Papacosta, of the book, The Business of Podcasting: How to Take Your Podcasting Passion from the Personal to the Professional.
In March 2021, he was elected to the board of directors of the New Jersey Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, and in July 2021 he was named secretary of the chapter. In August 2021, he was honored by SPJ with one of the organization’s 2021 Howard S. Dubin Outstanding Pro Member Awards, given to regular members of an SPJ chapter who go above and beyond in serving their chapter.
Steve has been the computer columnist for the Jewish Community Voice of Southern New Jersey, since 1996.
Steve also has reported on-camera and produces virtual conferences for NJSpotlightNews.org, a public policy news coverage website focused on New Jersey government and industry; and for clients of StateBroadcastNews.com, a division of The Lubetkin Media Companies LLC.
From May-November 2019, he produced and reported a weekly podcast, The CRE News Hour, a news and features program focusing on the commercial real estate industry.
From 2014 to 2019 he was New Jersey and Philadelphia editor for GlobeSt.com and filled in covering Chicago/Midwest and Atlanta.
Steve has also served (from August 2017 to March 2018) as national broadcast news correspondent for CEOReport.com, a news website focused on practical advice for senior executives in small- and medium-sized companies.
Earlier in his career, Steve reported on rock music at the Jersey Shore for the Asbury Park Press, and was a broadcast news anchor and production engineer for WJLK-AM & FM, then owned by the Press. He also worked as a general assignment reporter for the Red Bank Register, Shrewsbury, NJ.
You can email Steve at email@example.com.