🌎 1 in 3 Americans are exposed to unhealthy air

🌎 Ozone is like a sunburn on the lungs, soot is like sandpaper

🌎 Worsening soot figures in NJ may be linked to wildfires

How healthy is the air you breathe on a daily basis?

That answer can vary from county to county, and a report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association presents quite a range of air-quality results for the Garden State.

Looking at ozone (smog), one of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution, the report recorded best-ever results for each New Jersey county it analyzed. In certain cases (Bergen and Mercer counties), that result was still a failing grade, based on the number of high ozone days detected between 2019 and 2021.

Nationally, the report found that more than one in three people live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone of particle pollution, aka soot, during that three-year window.

A handful of New Jersey counties — Bergen, Camden, Mercer, Middlesex, and Ocean — recorded worse grades for soot this year than last year. No counties improved in this area, but Atlantic, Cumberland, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon and Morris counties all retained their "A" grades.

"With both of these pollutants, ozone and particle pollution, science shows that they could lead to wheezing, coughing, cardiovascular incidents like heart attacks, or even lung cancer and premature death," said Michael Seilback, national assistant vice president for state policy for the American Lung Association.

According to Seilback, soot can be blamed less these days on diesel engines and heavy equipment, and more on wildfires in and beyond New Jersey.

The report indicates that communities of color continue to bear a greater burden of air pollution.

How to improve NJ's air quality


"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," Seilback said.

In New Jersey and nationwide, ozone pollution is improving, due in part to the success of the Clean Air Act, the report notes. But, it says, more work can be done to reduce residents' daily exposure to pollutants.

To go along with its report, the American Lung Association called on New Jersey to finalize its plans to end the sale of gasoline powered vehicles by 2035, and to push forward on efforts to electrify buildings and increase production of clean, green energy.

Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday announced the finalization of standards that aim to reduce air pollution in vulnerable communities.

The "first of its kind" rules would, for one, block permits for any proposed facilities that could have a disproportionately negative impact on overburdened communities, based on an environmental justice analysis.

Dino Flammia is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com

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