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Lancaster’s Air Quality Worsened Again for Ozone Smog Pollution, Finds 2019 ‘State of the Air’ Report, as Year-round Average Fine Particle Pollution Ranks Area 15th Worst in U.S.

American Lung Association’s 20th annual air quality report finds more than 4 in 10 Americans live with unhealthy air quality. Lancaster posts fewer days with high fine particle pollution, but still earns failing grade; long-term average hits passing mark.

(April 24, 2019) - LANCASTER, PA

The American Lung Association’s 2019 “State of the Air” report found that the Lancaster County metro area improved its annual average level of fine particle pollution so that it was much better than reported in last year’s report, and no longer violated the national air quality standard as it did then.  Nevertheless, Lancaster was tied as the 15th most polluted city in the nation for this measure, but that was an improvement over its 8th worst ranking in last year’s report. 

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 report also found that Lancaster again had worse ozone smog pollution for the second year in a row, worsening to an “F” grade from a “D” last year, and from a “C” in the report in 2017 covering the period of 2013-2015.  The area ranked 58th worst in the nation.

“Lancaster 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 Lancaster, 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.”

For the daily measure of fine particle pollution, Lancaster also reduced, for a second year, the weighted average number of unhealthy days for this pollutant, Although the area still earned an “F” grade for the 3.3-day average from 2015-2017 data, it posted fewer than half the number of 7.5 days reported in last year’s report for 2014-2016 data.  This year’s tally was the best reported since the 2013 report and is even higher than the average of 2.3 days (a “D” grade) posted in the 2011 report.  As a result of this improvement, the area’s rank improved markedly, from 13th worst in last year’s report to 28th most polluted in this year’s.

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 Lancaster

Compared to the 2018 report, Lancaster experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report, earning the area an “F” grade, ending its two-year period of passing grades for this pollutant, and worsening its ranking to 58th from 62nd worst in the country last year, and from 84th worst the year before.

“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 Lancaster

The 2019 report also found year-round particle pollution levels significantly lower than the 2018 report. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. Lancaster’s return to a passing grade for pollution levels better than the air quality standard and much better than those of 12 years prior was consistent with that trend.

“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 Lancaster had fewer days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels. In fact, the report found this was Lancaster’s least polluted three-year period since 2009-2011.

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 Lancaster rankings, as well as air quality across Pennsylvania and the nation, in the 2019 “State of the Air” report at www.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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