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Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton Metro Area’s Air Quality Had Best Results for Particle Pollution, Finds 2019 ‘State of the Air’ Report, But Area Continued Unchanged for Ozone Smog, Earning Failing Grade

American Lung Association’s 20th annual air quality report finds more than 4 in 10 Americans live with unhealthy air quality. A-B-E metro area once again considered separate from New York-Newark metro area.

Editor’s Note: UPDATED trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades will be available at Lung.org/sota

(April 24, 2019) - ALLENTOWN, Penn.

For more information please contact:

Allison MacMunn
[email protected]
312-801-7628

The American Lung Association's 2019 "State of the Air" report found that the 4-county Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ metro area showed modest improvement in two measures of fine particle pollution compared to last year's report, achieving its best ever results (both passing grades), and continuing to meet the national long-term air quality standard.  But the report also found that the metro area had the same highest number of days with unhealthy levels of ozone smog, for which its worst grade continued to be an "F".  

The area is ranked between 50th and 60th worst in the country for all three measures of air pollution (ozone smog and daily and year-round particle pollution) considered.  In all three cases, it was Northampton County that posted the worst results.

The 20th annual air quality "report card" tracks Americans' exposure to unhealthful levels of ozone and particle pollution, both of which can be deadly. The metro area had been part of the much larger New York-Newark NY-NJ-CT-PA metro area between 2014 and 2018, but it is once again separate, as federal designations have changed. 

"Area residents should be aware that we're breathing unhealthy air, driven by local emissions, upwind sources, and extreme heat as a result of climate change, placing our health and lives at risk," said Kevin Stewart, the American Lung Association's Director of Environmental Health for Advocacy and Public Policy. "In addition to challenges here in the Lehigh Valley and beyond, the 20th-anniversary 'State of the Air' report highlights that more than 4 in 10 Americans are living with unhealthy air, and we're heading in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting public health."

This year's report covers the most recent quality-assured data available collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies in 2015-2017. Notably, those three years were the hottest recorded in global history. 

Each year the "State of the Air" provides a report card on the two most widespread outdoor air pollutants, ozone pollution, also known as smog, and particle pollution, often 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 Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton

The metro area experienced the same worst number of unhealthy days of high ozone as in last year's report, with Northampton County again posting a weighted average of 3.7 days and earning an "F" grade.  Lehigh County also remained unchanged with 3.0 days and garnered a "D," and Carbon County was not monitored.  Warren County worsened slightly (1.3 to 1.7 days), but continued to post a "C" grade.  The area ranked 55th worst in the country for this measure.

"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 showed that ozone levels increased in most cities nationwide, in large part due to the record-breaking global heat experienced in the three years tracked in the report. 

Particle Pollution in Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton

The 2019 report also found year-round particle pollution levels to be the best ever for this metro area.  The maximum value was slightly lower than in the 2018 report and continued to meet the air quality standard. Nationwide, the best progress in this year's report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. Northampton County returned as the county in the metro area with the worst average concentration of fine particle pollution, but it showed improvement for the sixth straight year.  Levels in the metro area have generally been steadily decreasing over the years. The area ranked 56th worst in the country for this measure.

"Particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, industrial sources, 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" 2019 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, as these can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The report found that the metro area posted its second set of all-passing grades under the current air pollution standard.  The area's worst weighted average number of unhealthy days for this pollutant (1.3) was recorded in Northampton County, for which it earned a "C" grade, its best ever result.  Warren County received an "A" grade for posting zero unhealthy days for the fourth consecutive year, making it one of the nation's cleanest counties for this pollutant.  Lehigh County's results were incomplete, and Carbon County was not monitored.  The area ranked 52nd worst in the country for this measure.

While improvements have been made locally, many of these spikes in the western United States were directly linked to weather patterns leading to drought or to wildfire events, which are increasing in frequency and intensity in many areas of the country due to climate change. 

While the report examined data from 2015-2017, this 20th annual report online provides information on air pollution trends back to the first report. Learn more about rankings for the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area, as well as air quality across area states and the nation, in the 2019 "State of the Air" report at Lung.org/sota. For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health, healthy air, and threats to air quality, contact Annette Eyer at  [email protected] or 717- 971-1124. 

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About the American Lung Association

The American Lung Association 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 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, a holder of the coveted 4-star rating from Charity Navigator and a Gold-Level GuideStar Member, or to support the work it does, call 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872) or visit: Lung.org.

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