Ozone smog worsens in State College DuBois metro area; Centre Countys steady improvement for daily measure of year-round fine particle pollution puts area on “Cleanest Cities in U.S.” list, finds 2018 State of the Air report
Editors 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) - State College, PA
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The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found that ozone air pollution in the two-county State College-DuBois 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. Both Centre and Clearfield counties are monitored for ozone, but Centre County hosts the only official monitoring in the metro area for the measures of particle pollution.
For ozone smog, both Centre and Clearfield Counties posted slightly worse results than in last year’s report. Although continuing with passing marks for at least the fourth straight year, both counties’ grades slipped a notch. Centre County went from a “B” to a “C,” and Clearfield County left behind its one-time appearance on last year’s list of “Cleanest Counties” in the country for this pollutant, dropping from an “A” to a “B.” As a result, the metro area’s rank worsened from 119th worst last year to 94th worst of 227 in the current report. This is in keeping with a trend seen in most U.S. cities toward higher ozone pollution levels than in last year’s report.
In contrast, for the daily measure of fine particle pollution in the metro area, not only did Centre County continue with a three-year stretch of equaling or improving upon the previous year’s performance, but it also earned passing grades for an eighth consecutive year. Especially remarkable was that the last four years of grades improved by one place each year, from a “D” in the 2015 report to the county’s best ever performance—an “A” for tallying zero days of unhealthful air quality over the three-year period of 2014-2016. As a result, this placed the State College-DuBois metro area on the list of “Cleanest Cities” in the nation for this pollutant. The metro area’s rank also improved significantly, from 60th worst last year to 112th worst (the best possible, with ties) of 201 metro areas in the current report.
For the fourth consecutive year, Centre County improved to its best ever performance for the year-round measure of fine particle pollution, while meeting the current national standard for the ninth year in a row. As a result of Centre County showing clear improvement and posting its best ever value for this pollutant, the State College-DuBois metro area’s national rank also improved: The area advance from 102nd worst to 113th worst in the country.
Compared to the 2017 report, the State College-DuBois metro area 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.
“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone in State College can still occasionally 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 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.
Fine Particle Pollution
Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution, and Centre County’s performance was consistent with that trend.
“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. While Centre County can now be found among the nation’s cleanest for this measure, in other areas of the country, many of the daily spikes in 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 State College-DuBois 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.
American Lung Association in Pennsylvania
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