Has the DC region’s air quality improved?

Findings for the D.C. region’s air quality were mixed in the report from the American Lung Association’s 2023 “State of the Air” report, which was released Wednesday.

The report grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ozone air pollution, annual particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution.

According to the findings, the D.C. region received another F letter grade when it comes to ozone smog.

The actual number of days with unhealthy levels of ozone smog did not change since last year’s report, but the area went from the 30th worst in the nation to 26th worst out of more than 200 metro areas.

Baltimore County displaced Harford County in Maryland, as the county in the region with the worst performance for ozone in this year’s report, earning an F grade.

Harford, Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties — all in Maryland — also continued to earn F grades.

“We still have significant emissions because we are a metropolitan area and we’re exposed to a lot of fumes from cars, but we’re doing better with regard to electric cars,” said Dr. Bobby Mahajan, a spokesman with the American Lung Association.

“We can take a lesson from the fact that electric cars are becoming more and more prominent in the D.C. area,” Mahajan said. “We have to keep that trend moving forward.”

The report tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even deadly.

There were more unhealthy days with those spikes, leading the D.C. area to lose ground slightly, moving to 62nd most polluted for short-term particle pollution, compared to 63rd in last year’s report.

Year-round particle pollution levels in the D.C. region were slightly higher than in last year’s report.

However, due to even worse performance in other areas across the country, the metro area was ranked 79th most polluted for year-round particle pollution, a slightly better place than last year’s ranking when it was 75th.

“There are a number of individuals who have underlying health disease in their lungs and their heart that can be adversely affected by having significant exposure to pollution,” Mahajan said. “We also see that individuals who are exposed to high levels of pollution have a higher incidence of what we call ‘reactive airways,’ which means that they can develop asthma-like symptoms at later ages.”

Nationally, the report found that nearly 120 million people in the U.S. live in counties that have unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.

Last year that number was 130 million.

Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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