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Nearly every metropolitan area across the state experienced an average of 91 days of degraded air quality in 2016, said Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center’s report "Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathe Polluted Air."

New Jerseyans are breathing in smog and pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels, a new report finds, putting residents at increased public health risk.

Nearly every metropolitan area across the state experienced an average of 91 days of degraded air quality in 2016, said Environment New Jersey Research and Policy Center’s report “Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathe Polluted Air.”

Environmental experts and advocates said they want to see the federal and state governments take more action to improve air quality.

“To drastically reduce our dirty-air days, we need to strengthen existing air quality protections and reduce global warming pollution,” Doug O’Malley, policy center director, said in a statement. “We shouldn’t accept bad air pollution, especially in the summer, as the status quo.”

Report authors reviewed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and particulate pollution, or harmful pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels like coal, diesel, gasoline and natural gas.

The report used a different threshold than the federal standard to determine when air quality reached harmful levels.

Lawrence Hajna, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, said there were only 26 days in which ozone levels exceeded the federally established health standard.

“We monitor this closely. We issue alerts whenever air is expected to reach a level that could have an impact on health of vulnerable populations or people with chronic health conditions,” he said.

In reference to the 91 days counted in the report, Elizabeth Ridlington, policy analyst with Frontier Group, which co-authored the report, said there is no safe level of exposure to smog and particle pollution.

“Even low levels of smog and particle pollution are bad for health and can increase death,” she said.

Areas of the state, which were clustered and measured together and included parts of neighboring states, that had higher numbers of bad air-quality days included Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington and Trenton.

They were followed by the New York-Newark-Jersey City area, Vineland-Bridgeton and Atlantic City-Hammonton.

The latter region saw 31 days with elevated ozone levels and 28 days of elevated particulate pollution levels.

The area in Cumberland County had 34 and 44 days, respectively, according to the report.

Medical groups have linked bad air quality with poor health. Air pollution has been considered a contributor to asthma attacks, heart attacks, cancer, emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

The American Lung Association’s 2018 State of the Air report found ozone pollution has worsened over the years while particle pollution has decreased. Both Atlantic and Cumberland counties got C grades for ozone pollution, but Atlantic County secured an A for minimal particle pollution.

Hajna said air quality is especially worse in the summer as car emissions contribute greatly to overall pollution, which combines with the heat to produce harmful levels.

The state has established many policies and programs over the years to combat pollution, he said, which include participation in California’s Zero Emission Vehicle program, the closing of most coal-burning power plants, initiatives to expand the electric car market and strict emission standards.

Despite what has already been done, O’Malley said the federal government under President Donald Trump must not weaken clean car and ozone standards, and that states like New Jersey should do everything in their power to strengthen their policies.

“Clearly, we need to fight against the Trump administration rollbacks on ozone standards and fuel-efficiency standards,” he said in a statement. “But we also need to stop digging the hole deeper on carbon pollution and smog-forming emissions here in New Jersey.”

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Contact: 609-272-7022 Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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