Study Cites High Ozone In A Dozen Counties A Report By The American Lung Association Said The Counties Had Too Many Days When Ozone Was A Hazard.

Posted: May 24, 2000

Marie Curtis, executive director of the New Jersey Environmental Lobby, was not the least bit startled by the Garden State's pitiful showing in the ozone air pollution study released by the American Lung Association yesterday.

The association gave failing grades to a dozen New Jersey counties in a study of ozone pollution, and Camden County is the worst offender, according to the report based on federal Environmental Protection Agency ozone data from 1996 through 1998.

"I was not at all surprised," said Curtis, who lobbies in Trenton on behalf of about 100 state and regional environmental groups. "For the last few years, Camden County and Camden City have been right up there in ozone days. . . . We've seen it coming."

Indeed, New Jersey - particularly South Jersey - has been struggling to improve air quality since the federal government began pressuring the state to do so in the mid-1990s.

Curtis said South Jersey's ozone problems were compounded by winds that bring in smog from Philadelphia, Delaware, and the coal-fueled power plants of the Midwest.

But she said the most significant reason for the high ozone levels was that too many cars were not receiving proper emissions scrutiny.

The state has tried to improve air quality by using advanced equipment to test emissions. But critics said the state needed to make better use of the equipment.

"The American Lung Association report shows that the state of New Jersey has failed to improve air quality and protect the health concerns of the people of this state," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club. "This isn't about statistics. This is about people's health."

The lung association concluded that 132.5 million Americans have elevated health risks because of air pollution, and it named the Philadelphia-Wilmington-Atlantic City region, including northern South Jersey, as one of the 13 most polluted metropolitan areas.

Sunlight combines with heat and pollutants from automobiles, factories and power plants to produce ozone, a pungent gas that inflames lungs and breathing passages.

Using EPA standards, the association counted the number of days during the three years that posed a health risk to some people, such as children or people with respiratory conditions. It also tracked days with unhealthy and very unhealthy ozone levels.

Camden County led the state and was No. 21 in the nation with 71 days with unhealthful ozone levels, including eight days that posed health risks to all people. Ocean County followed with 62 days.

Bob Lentine, assistant chief of the Camden County Department of Health and Human Services, said that he was concerned about the report but that the county could do little since air-quality standards are controlled at the state and federal levels.

He did say the state seems committed to improving air quality in Camden County. The county is conducting state-mandated studies to figure out how carcinogens that are related to hospital disinfection supplies, dry cleaning and pesticides are getting into the air.

Other counties cited in the report were Atlantic (53 days), Gloucester (51 days), Hunterdon (47 days), Morris (45 days), Mercer (44 days), Monmouth (43 days), Middlesex (40 days), Cumberland (37 days), Hudson (20 days) and Essex (14 days).

Aamer Madhani's e-mail address is amadhani@phillynews.com

* This article contains information from the Associated Press.

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