For Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area, all counties post worse marks for ozone smog, finds 2018 ‘State of the Air’ Report
Editor’s Note: Updated Trend Charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades are available at Lung.org/sota on April 18, 2018 at 12:01 a.m. EDT.
(April 18, 2018) - Allentown, PA
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The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found that ozone air pollution in the 2-state, 4-county Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ metro area and throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic worsened when compared with last year’s report, even as fine particle pollution levels continued their steady improvement. The “State of the Air” report gives results for three measures of air pollution—days with elevated ozone, and daily and annual values for fine particle pollution.
In addition to providing metro area rankings, the 19th annual “State of the Air” report also grades and ranks individual counties. The four-county local metro area falls into the larger 4-state, 35-county New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT-PA metro area.
For ozone, 21 of the 27 counties monitored for this pollutant in the New York-Newark metro area posted worse results than in last year’s report. This includes the three such counties (Warren, NJ, and Lehigh and Northampton, PA) in the immediate area.
As many other areas also had problems with ozone increases, the New York-Newark metro area’s rank nevertheless improved slightly, from 9th worst last year to 10th worst of 227 in the current report, but still continuing its listing among the “Worst 25 Cities” for this pollutant. The change in rank was determined by ozone levels at the worst county in the area—in this case, by performance in a county well outside the local area: Fairfield, CT.
For the third consecutive year, Northampton County and the New York-Newark metro area met the current national standard for year-round particle pollution. Warren County met it for the ninth straight year. The larger metro area improved from 22nd worst to 26th worst in the country, taking it just off the “Worst Cities” list for this pollutant measure, as a result of the value for the worst county (New York, NY) improving to the best ever.
For the daily measure of fine particle pollution, the New York-Newark metro area earned passing grades for the first time ever for all counties posting results. The metro area’s rank improved significantly—from 28th worst last year to 36th worst of 201 in the current report. The rank change was determined as a direct result of Northampton County’s improvement, from an “F” in last year’s report to its first passing grade, a “C,” as it remains the worst county for this measure in the entire 35-county area.
Compared to the 2017 report, the Lehigh Valley has seen a distinct increase in unhealthy days for ozone and a continuing gradual improvement in both measures of particle pollution. This is in keeping with trends seen across the nation for both higher ozone and lower particle pollution levels than in last year’s report. For example, in the case of year-round particle pollution, the Northampton County posted its fifth consecutive year of improvement and Warren County, its ninth.
“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone in the Lehigh Valley and its wider metro areas put our citizens at risk for premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks and greater difficulty breathing for those living with a lung disease such as COPD. As long as there are many days with high ozone levels, people with lung diseases such as asthma will continue to need medical attention,” said Kevin Stewart, Director of Environmental Health, American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “Across the nation, the report found continued improvement in air quality, but still, more than four in 10 Americans – 133.9 million – live in counties that have unhealthful levels of either ozone or particle pollution, where their health is at risk.”
The trends in this year’s report, which covers data collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2014-2016, confirm the ongoing challenges to reduce each pollutant in the changing political and outdoor climate.
“We can and should do more to save lives,” Stewart said. “The American Lung Association in Pennsylvania calls on our members of Congress to defend the Clean Air Act, currently under threat from those who want to weaken this effective public health law. We also call on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement and enforce the law instead of trying to roll back major safeguards such as the Clean Power Plan and cleaner cars, both steps that help us fight climate change and reduce air pollution.”
For 19 years, “State of the Air” has provided a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution, also known as smog, and particle pollution, also called soot. The report analyzes particle pollution in two ways: through average annual particle pollution levels and short-term spikes in particle pollution. Both ozone and particle pollution are dangerous to public health and can increase the risk of premature death and other serious health effects such as lung cancer, asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm.
Ozone Pollution in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ metro area
Compared to the 2017 report, the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. All three counties posting grades for ozone air pollution performed more poorly, with Northampton County worsening from a “C” to an “F,” Lehigh County from a “C” to a “D,” and Warren County showing marginally worse performance, but retaining last year’s grade of “C.”
“Ozone especially harms children, older adults and those with asthma and other lung diseases,” said Stewart. “When older adults or children with asthma breathe ozone-polluted air, too often they end up in the doctor’s office, the hospital or the emergency room. Ozone can even shorten life itself.”
This report documents how warmer temperatures brought by climate change make ozone more likely to form and harder to clean up. This year’s report also revealed that ozone levels increased in most cities nationwide, in large part due to warmer temperatures in 2016, the second hottest year on record in the U.S. Over the past decades, ozone pollution has decreased nationwide because the nation has cleaned up major sources of the emissions that create ozone, especially coal-fired power plants and vehicles.
Particle Pollution in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ metro area
Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.
However, of the 20 counties graded for this measure in the New York-Newark metro area, Warren County was one of only two that posted worse results than in the 2017 report. Northampton County’s result was distinctly improved over its 2017 report. All counties in the region performed much better than the national standard, continuing a long-standing trend of improvement.
“Particle pollution is made of soot, chemicals, and tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices. These particles are so small that they can lodge deep in the lungs and trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and can even be lethal,” said Stewart. “Year-round particle pollution levels have dropped thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines.”
“State of the Air” 2018 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. According to the 2018 report, Warren County had zero days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels in 2014-2016, continuing its streak among the nation’s cleanest counties for the third straight year. Northampton County, with its first passing grade, a “C,” showed improvement for the third consecutive year. Warren County continued its unbroken streak of equaling or improving upon the previous year’s performance since the “State of the Air” report first covered particle pollution in its 2004 edition.
In other areas of the country, many of the daily spikes fine particle pollution were directly linked to weather patterns such as drought or to events such as wildfires, which are likely to increase because of climate change. In some localities, high emissions from wood-burning devices have also been a factor.
While the report examined data from 2014-2016, this 19th annual report provides online information on air pollution trends back to the first report covering 1996-1998. Learn more about Pennsylvania’s rankings, as well as air quality in the Lehigh Valley, in the broader metro area and across the nation in the “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota. For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health and healthy air, contact the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania Communications Director Ewa Dworakowski by calling 717-971-1123 or 717-503-3903 (cell) or emailing [email protected] .
About the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania
The American Lung Association in Pennsylvania is the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease, through research, education and advocacy. The work of the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania is focused on four strategic imperatives: to defeat lung cancer; to improve the air we breathe; to reduce the burden of lung disease on individuals and their families; and to eliminate tobacco use and tobacco-related diseases. For more information about the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania, a holder of the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Guide Seal, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.
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