Lancaster and Pittsburgh worsen, tie for worst year-round particle pollution average for any metro area east of California, 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) - Lancaster, PA
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The American Lung Association’s 2018 “State of the Air” report found that ozone air pollution in the single-county Lancaster metro area and throughout much of the Mid-Atlantic worsened when compared with last year’s report. In addition, unlike the general trend, as new monitoring data has been included in the calculation, Lancaster’s long-term fine particle pollution levels were recorded as failing the national standard for the first time since the 2014 report. 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.
For the first time for fine particle pollution, information from the county’s more recently established monitoring station met completeness requirements for inclusion in the calculations for the year-round measure. The result of this is that the county’s average value increased significantly, giving a result worse than the air quality standard after the area had met it for three consecutive years. The new value earned a “Failing” grade and was the worst for Lancaster in the “State of the Air” report since 2011.
Even though the value for the same pollutant measure also increased for the Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, PA-OH-WV metro area from its reported value in last year’s report, Lancaster now ties Pittsburgh for the worst value in the United States anywhere east of California. As a result, the Lancaster metro area’s rank worsened significantly, from 20th worst in last year’s to 8th worst, joining Pittsburgh at its long-standing position among the nation’s “Worst 25 Cities” for this measure.
For the daily measure of fine particle pollution, Lancaster showed a distinct improvement, posting its best result in three years. Still, the frequency of unhealthy days for this pollutant was high enough that Lancaster earned an “F” and came in as second worst only to Pittsburgh among the counties east of Utah. Lancaster County once again traded places with Allegheny County and therefore came in as Pennsylvania’s second worst for this measure. Lancaster’s rank improved by only one place on the nationwide “Worst 25 Cities” list, from 12th worst in last year’s report to 13th worst.
For ozone, Lancaster posted worse results than in last year’s report, but continued with a passing grade for only the second year, earning a “D” instead of last year’s “C.” As a result, the metro area’s rank worsened from 84th worst last year to 62nd 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.
Nationwide, the best progress in this year’s report came in reducing year-round levels of particle pollution. In contrast with those trends, the big jump in that measure for Lancaster County ends what has been a nearly steady decade-long history of improvement for this measure beginning with the 2008 “State of the Air” report.
“The 2018 ‘State of the Air’ report finds that unhealthful levels of ozone and fine particle pollution in the Lancaster 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. High levels of year-round particle pollution mean our citizens also face an increased risk for lung cancer. Daily spikes of particle pollution are dangerous and can even be lethal for people with lung and heart disease. 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
“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. “With few exceptions, 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. 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 Lancaster 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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