Inhaling ozone pollution is likened to a sunburn on the lung.

According to a new "State of the Air" report from the American Lung Association, ozone, the main ingredient in smog, has been so prevalent in New Jersey that two-thirds of the counties with an air-quality monitor in place deserve an F grade. Not one state earned greater than a C.

The report used EPA data from 2015 through 2017 to determine how often and how much ozone was sitting in the air people breathe.

Compared to the 2018 report, eight of the 15 counties analyzed with monitors experienced a greater number of unhealthy days of high ozone. Ten counties earned F grades.

"It can cause problems breathing for even healthy people — even one day of exposure," said Kevin Stewart, American Lung Association's director of environmental health for advocacy and public policy.

Ozone is particularly a problem for children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases.

Camden County had the worst performance, posting a weighted average of 10.8 days per year with unhealthy levels of ozone pollution. Just one county, Essex, improved from report to report, moving from an F to a D.

Stewart noted the three-year span also happened to host record-breaking heat globally, making ozone more likely to form. But human action, dispersing "precursor pollutants" into the air, make the problem worse.

For ozone smog, all counties but Warren County were in metropolitan areas that ranked among the worst 25 in the country, the report finds.

HIGH OZONE DAYS, 2015-2017 (not all counties record data)

  • Atlantic: 3
  • Bergen: 26
  • Camden: 32
  • Cumberland: 3
  • Essex: 9
  • Gloucester: 18
  • Hudson: 21
  • Hunterdon: 15
  • Mercer: 27
  • Middlesex: 27
  • Monmouth: 10
  • Morris: 9
  • Ocean: 19
  • Passaic: 13
  • Warren: 5

During the three-year span, New Jersey performed well for the presence of tiny particles that emanate from wildfires, coal-fired power plants and diesel engines. Both year-round and daily particle pollution levels were significantly lower than what was recorded in the 2018 report.

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