Breathing Easy in Clifton

Breathing Easy in Clifton

Is traffic congestion in Clifton causing air quality concerns?

Living in Clifton means never being able to leave the driveway during rush hour traffic.

Does it also mean having to breathe less-than-clean air?

During a Clifton Town Council meeting on Tuesday, April 3, resident Dwayne Nitz relayed concerns about the air quality in Clifton being among the worst in Fairfax County.

"I remember reading something that mentioned the town having bad air quality," said Nitz, chair of the town's traffic and safety committee. "I'm not sure what we could do to mitigate it, but I thought we should know what we have. People in Clifton are pretty proactive, and I'm sure if we could do something about it we would."

Thousands of drivers use Clifton Road and other small, residential streets for cut-throughs during their commute from Manassas and Prince William County into Fairfax County during the week, and hills on either side of the postage-stamp sized town may keep the emissions released by those cars hovering in the air, Nitz said.

The problem may be especially bad for those residents on Main Street closest to the traffic, he said.

Clifton Mayor Tom Peterson said he and his wife have to wash their porch twice a year to remove the soot that builds up from car emissions, but he is not sure the air quality is a problem.

"I don't think it's damaging to our health or anything, we just live with it," Peterson said.

He attributes the problem, if any, to the cars that pass through but doesn't believe there is much that can be done to eliminate the traffic.

"I'm not sure we want cars idling on Main Street with the exhaust fumes, we'd like to get them through as quickly as possible," Peterson said. "It's something that comes with living here."

Clifton Vice Mayor Mike Anton said he has not had any adverse health issues after his morning five-mile run through town.

"My kids are out running around and they seem to be fine," Anton said. "It would be interesting to see if there is a problem and then, if there is, what we can do to solve it."

THE RESIDENTS of Clifton may be in luck, however.

According to an air quality reading listed on's Real Estate page, the average air quality in Clifton is 17, compared with a national average of 44.59.

The air quality in Clifton isn't any better or worse than anyplace else in Fairfax County," said Bill Hayden, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Quality in Richmond.

"I'm really not aware of any reason for saying Clifton is any worse than anywhere else in Northern Virginia," Hayden said. "I would imagine the traffic is something and there may be some connection to that and the air quality, but the air quality in Fairfax County has been doing fairly well lately."

According to the data he had on hand, Hayden said there's "nothing to indicate a problem" in Clifton or anywhere else in Fairfax County.

Hayden said air quality can be at its worst during the summer months, from May to September. A combination of muggy air and high traffic volume results in anywhere from two to seven "Code Red" days each summer, when the air quality is so poor people are encouraged to take public transportation to work and stay indoors.

"Those numbers are actually better than they have been for several years," Hayden said. "We're seeing an improving trend."