BY TOM HESTER SR.
Seven New Jersey counties are among the top 20 areas considered to be the smoggiest in American, according to a report released by environmentalists on Wednesday.
Camden County and the city of Philadelphia are ranked 8th, Monmouth and Ocean counties are ranked 15th; Middlesex, Somerset and Hunterdon counties are ranked 17th; and the city of Trenton in Mercer County is ranked 20th.
Other New Jersey areas are ranked high on the list of smoggiest, although not in the top 20 overall. Newark is the 29th smoggiest among large metropolitan areas and Vineland, Millville, and Bridgeton placed 7th among small metropolitan areas.
Smog is a harmful air pollutant that leads to asthma attacks and exacerbates respiratory illnesses, especially among children and the elderly.
The report, Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011, found that the New Jersey areas had multiple days in 2010 when smog levels exceeded the national health standard.
The Camden city and suburbs had 29 smog days, Monmouth and Ocean had 18, Middlesex, Somerset, and Hunterdon had 17 and Trenton/Mercer 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. This summer, residents in the Newark area were alerted to unhealthy air on 27 days, including 7 that were red alert days.
The 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 worse than the public thought. The research shows there was an increase in days last year when residents in New Jersey’s smoggiest areas were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe.
The Camden area had 7 additional unhealthy smog days. Middlesex, Somerset, and Hunterdon had 16, and Trenton had 14.
“New Jerseyans deserve clean air,” Megan Fitzpatrick, an Environmental New Jersey spokeswoman said. “Far too many days, people across our state are exposed to dangerous smog pollution. For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”
“This report shows that recent attacks on the Clean Air Act are also attacks on New Jersey,” U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said. “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.”
“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath, state Sen. Bob Smith (D-Middlesex) added. “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.”
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, Fitzpatrick said. She said 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, Fitzpatrick said, 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,” Fitzpatrick said.
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, Fitzpatrick said. “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, Fitzpatrick said 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,” Fitzpatrick said. “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 act to attempt to protect the health of children and seniors, and to establish an updated standard for smog pollution that is based on the science. Fitzpatrick said a strong standard could save up to 12,000 lives and prevent up to 58,000 asthma attacks each year. At the same time, she said, polluters and their allies in the House of Representatives are threatening to make the problem worse by pushing a bill this week -- the TRAIN Act (H.R. 2401) -- to roll back existing smog pollution standards for power plants.
“We must make every day a safe day to breathe,” Fitzpatrick said. “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.”