Poor Air Quality Is All Too Frequent Occurrence for More than 100M Americans

Study by environmental groups measures days when readings for smog and fine particulates exceed federal standards
Credit: Eric via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Driving on I-80 in California

More than 100 million Americans suffered through at least 100 days of poor air quality during 2018, according to a new report that suggests many live in areas still routinely exposed to levels of pollution that can cause health problems.

The report — produced jointly by the Environment America Research & Policy Center, the Frontier Group and U.S. PIRG Education Fund — focused on pollution levels above that which federal environmental authorities have determined pose “little to no risk.’’

The study is based on data collected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at air monitoring stations for two primary pollutants: ground-level ozone (smog) and fine particulates.

New Jersey’s record

New Jersey has never achieved the federal air quality standard for the maximum number of days in a year it can exceed the benchmark for ground-level ozone, and only achieved the health quality standard for fine particulates, or soot, in the past decade. The pollutants increase the risk of asthma attacks and adverse health impacts, including premature death.

“No one should have to experience one day of polluted air — let alone 100 days a year,’’ said Ed Johnson, president of Environment America. “Air quality will only get worse as climate warms so we have no time to lose. It’s time to clear the air.’’

The report showed that New Jersey fared only marginally better than other areas of the country. While no region of the state experienced more than 100 days of degraded air, the northwest corner of the state, a quadrant that includes Allentown and Easton in Pennsylvania, came close with 99 days with moderate exceedances for both ozone and particulates.

Among other areas in the state, the air quality was degraded 85 days in Camden and other parts of the region near Philadelphia and Wilmington, DE; 82 days in Trenton, and 71 days in the northeast, including Newark and Jersey City, according to the report.

Topping the national list was the area around Los Angeles, which exceeding the standard on 156 days, following by Chicago, with 113, and Dallas/Fort Worth, with 106.

Authors call for government action

“The report should be a loud reminder that we have to do a lot more about air pollution,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, affiliated with Environment America. “This is an issue that New Jersey residents face each and every day.’’

The report calls on policymakers to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, support clean renewable energy, and expand climate-friendly transportation projects with more public transit, bikeways and walkways.

Many of those strategies are incorporated in a new energy master plan unveiled by the Murphy administration this week.

The release of the report comes as the Trump administration has moved to roll back federal measures aimed at reducing air pollution, including President Barack Obama’s efforts to require cleaner-running cars.

“Instead of undermining clean air protections, our government — at all levels — should be taking every opportunity to clean up the air we breathe,’’ said Morgan Folger, clean cars campaign director with Environment America Research & Policy Center. “Since transportation is the most polluting sector of our economy, we need to transition to electric cars, buses and transit.’’