Northern Virginia, D.C-area get poor marks in air-quality report, though state also boasts some of the ‘cleanest cities’

Washington, D.C., traffic at night. (Creative Commons via Pixabay)

A new report by the American Lung Association found that more cities across the country had high days of ozone and short-term particle pollution between 2015 and 2017 compared to 2014-16, and that Northern Virginia’s struggles with air pollutants have continued.

In its 20th annual State of the Air report, the association gave municipalities grades based on their ozone and short-term air pollution. Many cities and counties in Virginia were marked as DNC, or “Data Not Collected.” That mean the municipality doesn’t have a monitor, which are located “in less than 1,000 of the 3,068 counties in the United States,” according to the association.

“More must be done to address climate change and to protect communities from the growing risks to public health,” the report states. “This year’s report covered the three warmest years in modern history and demonstrates the increased risk of harm from air pollution that comes despite other protective measures being in place.”

Six areas in Virginia made it on the list of cleanest cities for measures like particle and ozone pollution: Roanoke, Richmond, Lynchburg, Charlottesville, the Harrisonburg-Staunton area and the Virginia Beach-Norfolk area.

That doesn’t mean those cities are free from pollution, though. Richmond had zero days when fine particle pollution reached unhealthy ranges for the seventh year in a row, but it experienced more unhealthy days of ozone smog than were recorded in the last report with 2.5 days a year, earning a D grade.

The northern part of the state did not fare well in the report. Air quality in the Washington-Baltimore-Arlington metro area “was the worst in four years for ozone smog,” the association found. Fairfax and Arlington received F ozone grades. The metro area ranked 16th on the list of the most polluted cities.

“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” Kevin Stewart, the American Lung Association’s director of environmental health for advocacy and public policy, said in a news release. “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room. Ozone can even shorten life itself.”

The D.C. metro area did make some improvements to its year-round particle pollution, according to the association, but it “continued to rank among the 50 worst in the country for this pollutant.”

Particle pollution includes tiny particles from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wood-burning devices and other sources, Stewart said in a statement.

“These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal,” Stewart said in the release. “Residents of Washington and the entire metro area should be aware that we’re breathing unhealthy air, driven by local emissions, upwind sources, and extreme heat as a result of climate change, placing our health and lives at risk.”