New Report: Wilmington area ranked 2nd in the northeast for smog pollution

Media Contacts
Lindsey Mendelson

Environment America Research and Policy Center

Wilmington, DE – Despite decades of progress under the Clean Air Act, people across Delaware continue to breathe unhealthy air, leading to increased risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts. According to a new report from Environment America Research & Policy Center, the Wilmington metropolitan area experienced the worst air pollution in Delaware, experiencing 97 days of elevated smog pollution and 212 days with unhealthy levels of soot.
“Even one day with unhealthy levels of air pollution is unacceptable,” said Lindsey Mendelson, Environment America Climate Associate. “We need to be strengthening our clean air laws, not rolling them back.”
Our Health at Risk reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Key findings include:

  • The Wilmington metropolitan area ranked 2nd in the northeast for the most days of elevated smog pollution in 2015, at 97. Sussex county and the Dover metropolitan area experienced 49 and 40 days of elevated smog pollution, respectively.
  • The Wilmington metropolitan area ranked 5th in the nation for the most days of elevated soot pollution. This region had unhealthy levels of soot on more than half the days of the year. 

The report comes as the Trump Administration issued an executive order last week, rolling back the Clean Power Plan, the first ever national limits on carbon pollution in the United States. 
“It appears the current administration in Washington is intent on resurrecting the failed policies that have allowed companies to disregard and ignore any responsibility they might have to protect our environment and the health of our citizens,” said Delaware Representative John Kowalko. “Moving forward to a goal of zero emissions and a healthy environment are the responsibilities and obligations we must accept unconditionally.” 

Many Delawareans may be exposed to air pollution even more severe than described here because they live in local pollution “hotspots,” such as near freeways, airports and industrial facilities – facing greater health impacts. For example, people who live near highly traveled roads are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, and at greater risk of death from stroke, lung disease and heart disease.
“We know that future weather in Delaware will be warmer in all seasons, especially in the summer, when heat waves will be more frequent, more intense, and last longer due to climate change,” said Dr. Cristina Archer, professor from the University of Delaware. “Ozone levels already exceed national air quality standards in Delaware and will exacerbate with rising temperatures. Many proposed actions by the current administration, like rolling back the Clean Power Plan or expanding coal burning, are threats to people’s health.”

“For decades, Wilmington has faced challenges around air pollution. Due to our neighborhoods being surrounded by industrial companies and contaminated brownfields, it has heightened the pollution levels within our communities that our families breath in everyday,” said Wilmington Councilwoman Rysheema Dixon. “We do have state and city agencies working to cut down on the pollution emissions in our neighborhoods. We do have high rates of asthma and cancer. It’s imperative that we work together to eliminate the challenges around air pollution and it’s health effects.”
Environment America applauded Senator Carper, ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, for leading the effort to defend the Clean Air Act, maintain the strength of the nation’s clean car standards, and accelerate our transition to clean energy.
And at the state level, Governor Carney can also help to reduce air pollution by committing to double the strength of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative this year. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is the best regional clean air and climate protection program in the country. This program limits dangerous pollution from power plants in Delaware and across the region – helping to slow the warming of our planet. It also fuels investment in clean energy by making polluters pay to pollute. It has cleaned our air, helping to avoid 300 asthma attacks in Delaware over its first six years in operation. Strengthening it will accelerate progress. 

“The more we do to cut pollution,” concluded Mendelson, “the healthier we all will be.”

Environment America Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit