Strong Differences for Harrisburg-York-Lebanon metro area: For every county graded, ozone smog worsens, but fine particle pollution measures are best ever, 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) - Harrisburg, PA
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The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found that ozone air pollution in the six-county Harrisburg-York-Lebanon 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 metro area ranked among the “Worst 25 Cities” in the United States for both measures of this pollutant. 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.
The Harrisburg-York-Lebanon metro area again met the current national standard for year-round particle pollution, according to the 19th annual “State of the Air” report. It also marked a report in which the average year-round level of fine particle pollution for each county improved to its best ever value. However, Lebanon County, rejoining the grading after a one-year hiatus because of incomplete data, and despite posting its first passing grade, had a value that was worse than the metro area’s previous best-ever performance in last year’s report. As a result, the metro area’s rank worsened from 22nd worst in the nation in last year’s report to 15th worst rank of 187 across the country in the current report.
For the five counties monitored for the daily measure of fine particle pollution, all posted the fewest number of days of unhealthful air quality, but the worst performances continued to earn “F’s,” with the result that the metro area’s rank improved only slightly, from 21st worst last year to 22nd worst of 201 metro areas in the current report.
For ozone, the four counties with monitored data for this pollutant all worsened from their previous year’s performance. In the metro area, Lebanon County had the highest number of days with unhealthful levels of ozone pollution, and picked up its fourth consecutive “F.” York County worsened and received the same grade. Nevertheless, as other areas have also struggled with the same situation, the metro area’s rank actually improved somewhat, from 41st worst last year to 45th worst of 227 in the current report.
Compared to the 2017 report, the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon 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. In the case of the daily measure of particle pollution, the metro area recorded its second consecutive year of improvement in its worst county’s number of days with unhealthful air quality.
“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone in the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon metro area 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 Harrisburg-York-Lebanon metro area
Compared to the 2017 report, the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon metro area experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. Three counties earned worse grades than they had in last year’s report, with Adams and Dauphin Counties dropping from “C’s” to “D’s,” and York County from “D” to “F.” Lebanon County’s performance was worst in the metro area, and grade of “F” was unchanged.
“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 Harrisburg-York-Lebanon metro area
Where they could be compared, the 2018 report also found year-round particle pollution levels were distinctly lower than in the 2017 report, all were much better than the national air quality standard, and all represented each county’s best performance ever. Even the metro area’s worst value (posted in Lebanon County) resulted in that county’s first passing grade. Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution.
“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, all five counties monitored for this measure recorded their best performance ever, some for more than just one year’s improvement. Three counties earned improved grades, with Adams and York going from “C’s” to “B’s,” and Cumberland jumping from “F” to “C.” Dauphin and Lebanon Counties continued with “F” grades for the fourth consecutive year. The noted improvements continue a general trend toward fewer short-term spikes in particle pollution in the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon metro area.
In other areas of the country, many of the daily spikes of 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 Harrisburg-York-Lebanon 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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