New Report: Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton Metro Area Air Quality Improves for Ozone Smog, Matching Best-ever Result; Year-Round Particle Pollution Unchanged at Best-ever

American Lung Association “State of the Air” Report also reveals that residents faced occasional days of poor air quality for fine particle pollution.

The 2022 “State of the Air” report, released today by the American Lung Association, finds that the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area’s air quality improved for some of the most harmful and widespread types of air pollution: ozone smog and year-round particle pollution. The Lehigh Valley’s result for ozone equaled its best-ever published five years ago. Long-term particles continued their trend of not worsening—and often improving—for the past nine straight years. Nevertheless, as changes were small, rankings remained relatively stable with respect to last year’s report. 

The “State of the Air” report is the Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” that tracks and grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution (also known as smog), annual particle pollution (also known as soot), and short-term spikes in particle pollution, over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2018-2020. See the full report at 

“The levels of ozone and particle pollution seen in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area can harm the health of all of our residents, but particularly at risk are children, older adults, pregnant people and those living with chronic disease. Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer,” said Molly Pisciottano, Director of Advocacy for the Lung Association. “Fortunately, the area did see an improvement in the levels of ozone pollution.” 

Ground-level Ozone Pollution in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton Metro Area:

Compared to the 2021 report, Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report and posted the same best-ever value that was recorded in the 2017 report. Northampton County, the county with the highest number of days with poor air quality for ozone in the Lehigh Valley, earned a “D” grade, with a slightly better average than last year’s report, and much better than its “F” in the 2020 report. “State of the Air” ranked the area as the 67th most polluted city for ozone pollution, which is slightly worse than its ranking of 70th worst in last year’s report as other metro areas improved more. 

Particle Pollution in Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton Metro Area:

 The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area’s short-term particle pollution result remained unchanged in this year’s report, posting the same average number of days (1.0) with unhealthy air in both Lehigh and Northampton Counties, and again earning a “C” grade. The metro area is ranked 88th worst for short-term particle pollution, the same as in last year’s report.  

The 2022 “State of the Air” found that the worst year-round particle pollution level in the Lehigh Valley (found for the most recent three years in Lehigh County) also was unchanged compared to last year’s report. Year by year, this long-term measure has consistently improved or remained unchanged since the 2014 report. The area was ranked 63rd most polluted for year-round particle pollution, better than the ranking of 54th worst last year as a number of other metro areas worsened.  

The report found that nationwide, nearly 9 million more people were impacted by deadly particle pollution than reported last year. It also shows more days with “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” air quality than ever before in the two-decade history of this report. Overall, more than 137 million Americans live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. Communities of color are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air. The report found that people of color were 61% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one pollutant, and 3.6 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three pollutants. 

The addition of 2020 data to the 2022 “State of the Air” report gives a first look at air quality trends during the COVID-19 pandemic. Regardless of the shutdowns in early 2020, there was no obvious improvement.  

The American Lung Association is calling on the Biden administration to strengthen the national limits on both short-term and year-round particulate matter air pollution. Stronger standards will educate the public about air pollution levels that threaten their health and drive the cleanup of polluting sources in communities across the country. See the full report results and sign the petition at 

Media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health, clean air and threats to air quality can contact Val Gleason at [email protected] or 717-971-1123.

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Valerie Gleason
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