Commonwealth officials say Virginia has cleanest air in 20 years

RICHMOND, Va. – The summer of 2017 was the cleanest ground-level ozone season in Virginia in at least 20 years, the Department of Environmental Quality announced today.

While more vehicles are on Virginia highways and the demand of electricity has continued to rise, emissions of a variety of pollutants have declined in the state.

The DEQ says that pollutants such as ozone, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and other particles have decreased by almost 60 percent over the last 20 years.

“We have made tremendous improvements in Virginia’s air quality in the past two decades,” DEQ Director David K. Paylor said. “Though we still have work to do to ensure that our air remains clean, the progress we have seen so far is a great benefit to all Virginians.”

Twenty years ago, the ozone health standard was 120 parts per billion, and many urban areas in the Commonwealth failed to meet it.

Now, only four days this summer had ozone levels that exceeded the current, more stringent ozone standard of 70 ppb as of the end of September. These high ozone readings were limited to Arlington and Fairfax counties, with four exceedances, and Henrico and Giles counties, each with one, said the DEQ.

Virginia is seeking redesignation for the Northern Virginia area from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the 2008 ozone standard (75 ppb).

The EPA will soon formally announce that the region has attained the 2008 standard, clearing the way for the redesignation that DEQ is seeking.

The second-cleanest year was 2013 for the Commonwealth, when five high ozone days were recorded.

The 2017 ozone season compares with years in the 1990s when multiple ozone exceedances occurred on a single day, and in some cases there were dozens of days statewide that experienced high ozone.

The average number of high ozone days in the 1990s was 86, including a high of 108 in 1993 and 1998.