New Report: Camden; Middlesex / Somerset; Ocean / Monmouth; and Trenton Makes Top 20 Smoggiest Regions in Nation List

Media Releases

Trenton – Today Environment New Jersey released a new report showing that four metropolitan areas in the state are among the top twenty smoggiest metropolitan areas in the country. Of the top 20 smoggiest areas in the nation, the Camden area together with the city of Philadelphia ranked 8th; the region of Monmouth and Ocean Counties ranked 15th; the region of Middlesex, Somerset and Hunterdon Counties ranked 17th; and the city of Trenton ranked 20th in the nation. 

“New Jerseyans deserve clean air.  But on far too many days, people across our state are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” said Megan Fitzpatrick, spokeswoman for Environment New Jersey. “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”

Other New Jersey regions ranked high on the list of smoggiest, although not in the top 20 overall. The city of Newark placed 29th smoggiest among large metropolitan areas across the nation and the region of Vineland, Millville, and Bridgeton in South Jersey placed 7th among small metropolitan areas across the nation. Smog is a harmful air pollutant that leads to asthma attacks and exacerbates respiratory illnesses, especially among children and the elderly. 

The new report, Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011, found that these regions of the state had multiple days in 2010 when smog levels exceeded the national health standard. The New Jersey suburbs of Philadelphia had 29 smog days, the region of Monmouth-Ocean had 18, the region of Middlesex-Somerset-Hunterdon had 17 and Trenton had 15.    In addition, residents of the Camden area were exposed to 3 “red-alert” days when air quality was so poor anyone could experience adverse health effects. Also, this summer, residents in the Newark area have already been alerted to unhealthy air on 27 days, including 7 that were red alert days.
“This report shows that recent attacks on the Clean Air Act are also attacks on New Jersey,” said Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ).  “We cannot afford policies that allow polluters off the hook and put the public health of our state in jeopardy.  It is high time all our leaders realize that pollution does not create jobs — it creates sick people, higher medical bills, lost days of work, and is a drag on our economy.”
The new report ranks cities in New Jersey and across the country for the number of days when the air was unhealthy to breathe due to smog pollution last year and this summer, and includes new data showing that the problem is even worse than the public thought.  The research shows there were many additional days last year, when residents in the smoggiest regions of New Jersey were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe, but because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels. The Camden area of New Jersey had 7 additional unhealthy smog days; the region of Middlesex, Somerset, and Hunterdon Counties had 16; and Trenton had 14. 

“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath. This report is a powerful reminder that we need to do more to protect public health, including adopting a transportation strategy to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and continued stimulus of renewable energy sources for our state,” said State Senator Bob Smith (D-Piscataway) and chair of the Senate Environment Committee.

The group held two events today at parks in Sayreville and Lakewood, and were joined by representatives from GreenFaith, the NJ Sierra Club, Sen. Bob Smith, Asm. John Wisniewski and a medical doctor.

Smog is one of the most harmful air pollutants, and is also one of the most pervasive. Smog is formed when pollution from cars, power plants, and industrial facilities reacts with other pollutants in the presence of sunlight.  Smog is of particular concern in the summer months when warmer temperatures lead to the build-up of higher concentrations of smog pollution. 

On days with elevated levels of smog pollution, children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illness suffer the most. Children who grow up in areas with high levels of smog may develop diminished lung capacity, putting them at greater risk of lung disease later in life. Additionally, children exposed to smog in the womb can experience lower birth weight and growth retardation.  Even among healthy adults, repeated exposure to smog pollution over time permanently damages lung tissues, decreases the ability to breathe normally, exacerbates chronic diseases like asthma, and can even cause premature death. 

“Gov. Christie is proposing plans to make our air pollution worse, from building more power plants to cutting our clean energy goals to trying to pull out of RGGI, the regional anti-pollution pact.
This report should be a wake-up call to the Governor that air pollution is still an every-day problem that hurts the most vulnerable – kids and the elderly,” said Fitzpatrick. “Smog puts the lives of New Jerseyans on the line – it’s time to protect our health and set strong rules to reduce smog pollution.”

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency is required to set a national standard for smog pollution according to the latest science on air quality and public health.  However, the current standard was set at a level that EPA’s own board of independent scientists agrees is not adequately protective of public health.  The Obama administration considered updating the standard this year to protect public health, but the president decided earlier this month to abandon this effort until 2013.  Environment New Jersey and prominent public health groups expressed deep disappointment with his decision. 

“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath,” continued Fitzpatrick. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can down the road. New Jersey’s kids, senior citizens and those suffering from respiratory problems will suffer as a consequence and certainly deserve better.”

Environment New Jersey called on the president to protect the health of New Jersey’s children and seniors, and to establish an updated standard for smog pollution that is based on the science. A strong standard could save up to 12,000 lives and prevent up to 58,000 asthma attacks each year.  At the same time, polluters and their allies in the House of Representatives are threatening to make the problem even worse by pushing a bill this week—the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401)—to roll back existing smog pollution standards for power plants.

Additionally, we need to clean up all sources by promoting more clean energy, preserving New Jersey’s participation in RGGI which cuts power plant emissions, promote transit as a better alternative to driving and make the cars we drive more efficient like the standards the President is moving to adopt.

“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” concluded Fitzpatrick.  “President Obama and New Jersey’s members of Congress should stand up for New Jerseyans’ health and oppose any attacks to the Clean Air Act, including voting against a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives this week that would roll back existing clean air protections for smog and other deadly pollutants.”
Danger-in-the-Air-Release-9.21.11.pdf Danger-in-the-Air-Release-9.21.11.pdf