The 2022 “State of the Air” report, released this week by the American Lung Association, finds that the Richmond metro area’s (comprised of 13 counties and four independent cities) ranking improved from 118th to 138th worst for ozone smog, one of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution.
The Richmond metro area and its ranking worsened (from 157th to 118th worst) for the year-round level of fine particle pollution, but the area continued for the 10th straight year as one the nation’s cleanest cities for the daily measure of this pollutant.
The “State of the Air” report is the Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” that tracks and grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution (also known as smog), annual particle pollution (also known as soot), and short-term spikes in particle pollution, over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2018-2020. See the full report at Lung.org/sota.
“The levels of ozone seen in the Richmond metro area can occasionally harm the health of all of our residents, but particularly at risk are children, older adults, pregnant people and those living with chronic disease. Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer,” said Aleks Casper, Director of Advocacy for the Lung Association. “Fortunately, the area did see an improvement in the levels of ozone smog, and continuing good performance for daily spikes in particle pollution.”
Ground-level ozone pollution in Richmond metro zrea
Compared to the 2021 report, Richmond metro area experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. Charles City County joined Henrico County as the most polluted for ozone in the metro area, both recording their fewest ever high ozone days on average and earning a “B” grade. “State of the Air” ranked the area as the 138th most polluted city for ozone pollution, an improvement compared to its ranking of 118th worst in last year’s report.
Particle pollution in Richmond metro area
The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The Richmond metro area marked its tenth year in a row when all four jurisdictions in the metro area earning grades for short-term particle pollution recorded zero days with unhealthy levels for this pollutant measure. They were Charles City, Chesterfield, and Henrico Counties and Richmond City. This means the metro area continued to place among the cleanest in the country for short-term particle pollution.
The 2022 “State of the Air” found that the worst year-round particle pollution level in the Richmond metro area was distinctly worse than in last year’s report. This appears to be the result of Richmond City finally having enough data from which a value could be calculated, hence displacing Henrico County as the worst in the metro area for this measure of particle pollution. As a result, the area was ranked 118th most polluted for year-round particle pollution, noticeably worse than the ranking of 157th last year. Nevertheless, all reported values in the metro area for this measure continued to meet the national air quality standard.
The report found that nationwide, nearly 9 million more people were impacted by deadly particle pollution than reported last year. It also shows more days with “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality than ever before in the two-decade history of this report. Overall, more than 137 million Americans live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. Communities of color are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air. The report found that people of color were 61% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one pollutant, and 3.6 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three pollutants.
The addition of 2020 data to the 2022 “State of the Air” report gives a first look at air quality trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the shutdowns in early 2020, there was no obvious improvement.
The American Lung Association is calling on the Biden administration to strengthen the national limits on both short-term and year-round particulate matter air pollution. Stronger standards will educate the public about air pollution levels that threaten their health and drive the cleanup of polluting sources in communities across the country. See the full report results and sign the petition at Lung.org/SOTA.