Garden State residents have been facing a lot of very hot, humid weather this summer, and as a result we’ve also had several days when breathing has been difficult because of unhealthy air quality.

Data collected by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection indicates we’ve already had 14 air quality alert days so far this year, and several additional days that have been classified as moderately unhealthy in parts of New Jersey — including Monday for most of the central and southern parts of the state.

These numbers will surely climb in the days and weeks ahead, according to Doug O’Malley, the director of Environment New Jersey.

“The air outside is literally unhealthy to breathe," he said. "We’re seeing a direct link between more extreme temperatures and more ozone alert days.”

O’Malley said elevated ozone pollution levels are created when the exhaust from cars and trucks mixes with warm summer air, and “the higher temperatures trigger more levels of ground level ozone.”

He said there are 600,000 adults and 150,000 children in the Garden State who have asthma, and “during an ozone alert day you should not be outside if you have asthma — which, if you’re a parent of a young kid, is the worst thing you want to tell any kid on a hot summer day.”

He said over the past 30 years, the number of ozone alert days has decreased “but we’re starting to see an uptick again, and what climate scientists tell us is the number of ozone alert days will double because of the impacts of climate change over the course of the next 30 years.”

“So unfortunately, what is happening this summer is a precursor to what a warmer New Jersey will look like and feel like," O’Malley said. "You know, this really is a public health crisis.”

O’Malley said another component of air pollution in New Jersey is elevated levels of nitrogen oxide that are blown east in the jetstream from coal-burning power plants in the Midwest.

Last year in New Jersey there were a total of 21 unhealthy air quality days declared.

How to address the problem?

O’Malley said to lower ozone levels we need more electric vehicles in New Jersey, and we need to make sure the state’s energy master plan “does not double down on fossil fuel infrastructure"

"We need to ensure that we’re not digging that hole deeper by building more gas plants and more gas pipelines," he said.

O’Malley also said the Trump administration is rolling back environmental protections that are increasing pollution levels and “ultimately we’re going to have change at the federal level, but there’s a lot we can do right here in New Jersey right now.”

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com