New Jersey: A Case Study of the Reduction in Urban and Suburban Air Pollution from the 1950s to 2010

By Lioy, Paul J.; Georgopoulos, Panos G. | Environmental Health Perspectives, October 2011 | Go to article overview
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New Jersey: A Case Study of the Reduction in Urban and Suburban Air Pollution from the 1950s to 2010

Lioy, Paul J., Georgopoulos, Panos G., Environmental Health Perspectives

BACKGROUND: Air pollution has been a topic of intense concern and study for hundreds of years. During the second half of the 20th century, the United States implemented regulations and controls to reduce the levels of criteria air pollutants and achieve the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for the protection of human health, while concurrently reducing the levels of toxic air pollutants.

OBJECTIVE: In this commentary we trace the changes in air pollution in New Jersey as a case study, demonstrating the impact of local, state, and federal strategies to control emissions of pollutants and pollutant precursors from the 1950s until today.

DISCUSSION: The original NAAQS (1970-1995) have been achieved, and significant progress has been made to achieve revised standards for ozone and particulate matter (PM) < 2.5 pm in aerodynamic diameter ([PM.sub.2.5]) in New Jersey, which in the past was considered a highly polluted industrial state.

CONCLUSIONS: Assuming no reversals on current regulations because of some major event or energy infrastructure disruption, outdoor air pollution reductions will continue to address health risks among specific segments of the general population affected by ozone/PM and pollution caused by neighborhood, local, and regional point and mobile sources.

KEY WORDS: air pollution, Clean Air Act, control strategy, criteria air pollutants, history, NAAQS, New Jersey, ozone, PM, sprawl. Environ Health Perspect 119:1351-1355 (2011). 103540 [Online 27 May 2011]

Air pollution problems can be traced to the development of industrialized and urbanized locales over many centuries. Systematic efforts to control air pollution and concurrently protect public health commenced mostly during the second half of the 20th century, intensifying since the 1960s (Reitze 1999; Stern 1962; Vallero 2008). Although national assessments of air pollution trends are available [e.g., U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 2010b], very useful insights can be gained by considering the history of air pollution in New Jersey as a case study. In this commentary we focus on how air pollution has decreased in intensity and changed in character in New Jersey over the past 50-60 years, and we address some of the issues and challenges ahead.


Established public perception associates New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the nation, with industrial emissions and high air pollution levels. Although there was a certain truth to this perception in the first half of the 20th century, substantial improvements have taken place over the past 50-60 years. In fact, data on the progress in reducing New Jersey air pollution are documented in the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) annual reports, published since 1971 (NJDEP 2011). The efforts toward clean air have not been a linear or simple process, because many factors had to be considered, including the combined impacts of industrial emissions and suburban lifestyles. Changes in lifestyle have resulted in increased automobile traffic and vehicular miles traveled (VMT) (Gutt et al. 2000; Salmore and Salmore 2008), affecting the character, patterns, and intensity of air pollution emissions, transport, and accumulation. In contrast to most states with - 9 million residents, New Jersey has no city with a population approaching even one-half million. In addition, the state's small size (7,417 mi (2)) and its high population density (1,110/mi (2)) mean that mobile and stationary sources are generally located in proximity to populated areas (Salmore and Salmore 2008).

As in New York City, New York, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, attempts to control air pollution in New Jersey started prior to the formation of the U.S. EPA in 1970 (Beck 2007). For instance, Hudson County implemented a smoke control act in 1931 (Woodward 1955). The approaches considered for addressing problems ranged from the rational to the ridiculous (Mallette 1957a, 1957b).

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New Jersey: A Case Study of the Reduction in Urban and Suburban Air Pollution from the 1950s to 2010


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