Air quality in the Garden State is trending in the right direction compared to years ago, but a new report card from the American Lung Association, on air pollution in New Jersey, is not one you'd hang on the fridge.

"Far too many New Jersey residents are being exposed to unhealthy levels of air pollution," said Michael Seilback, national assistant vice president for state public policy.

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In the association's 2021 "State of the Air" report, New Jersey presents a mixed bag of results related to ozone smog and particle pollution. For both measures, nearly every New Jersey county is located within a metro area that ranks among the 25 worst in the nation.

Eight counties — Bergen, Camden, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, and Ocean — earned "F" grades for ozone pollution based on 2017-2019 findings. Compared to last year's report, New Jersey overall experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in most of the 15 counties with sufficient data. Just one county, Cumberland, saw its grade fall from last year.

"When ozone is breathed into the lungs, it causes a chemical reaction which pulmonologists have equated to getting a sunburn on your lung tissue," Seilback said. "And so it leads to things like asthma attacks, certainly wheezing. But it could certainly send people to the hospital and even cause death."

Long-term averages of particle pollution, from sources such as wildfires and power plants, were found to be meeting the air quality standard in all New Jersey counties.

The report also looked at short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous. Twelve counties — Atlantic, Bergen, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Morris, Ocean, and Passaic — landed on the list of the cleanest counties in the nation with an "A" grade in this area. Camden County's "C" grade was the worst in the state.

The association's report shows nationwide progress on cleaning up air pollution. Seilback said climate change makes it harder for states to "see that progress."

Seilback said individuals can do their part to reduce pollution — taking mass transit, for example — but the association is calling on state and federal leaders to do more in this area, and address racial inequities related to air pollution.

"We want to see more investment in solar and wind, we want to see more electric vehicle infrastructure," Seilback said. "We're trending in the right direction, but we've got more work to do."

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