American Lung Association Report: Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton Metro Area’s Air Quality Improves to New Best Ever for Ozone Smog; Gets Worse for Both 24-Hour and Year-Round Particle Pollution

1 in 3 Nationwide Exposed to Unhealthy Air
The Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area’s air quality for ozone smog has improved to its best ever, and ranked tied at 65th most polluted, according to the American Lung Association’s 2023 “State of the Air” report, which was released today. Nevertheless, the 2-state, 4-county metro area worsened for both short-term and year-round particle pollution since last year’s report. Nationally, the report found that nearly 120 million people, or more than one in three, in the U.S. live in counties that had unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution.

The Lung Association’s 24th annual “State of the Air” report grades Americans’ exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution, annual particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution over a three-year period. This year’s report covers 2019-2021.

“Here in the Lehigh Valley and across the nation, we are seeing ozone pollution improving, thanks in big part to the success of the Clean Air Act. But there is more work to do,” said Aimee Van Cleave, Director of Advocacy for the Lung Association. “Even one poor air quality day is one too many for our residents at highest risk, such as children, older adults, individuals who are pregnant and those living with chronic disease. That’s why we are calling on lawmakers at the local, state and federal levels to take action to ensure that everyone has clean air to breathe.”

“We know that social disparities lead to health disparities, and that is also reflected in this report which shows that improvement has been uneven where people of color and those living in poverty are more likely to live in an area where they are exposed to more poor air quality days. It is time that we take steps to address both environmental and structural inequalities that lead to these outcomes,” said Van Cleave. 
Nationally, the report found that ozone pollution has generally improved across the nation, thanks in large part to the success of the Clean Air Act. However, more work remains to fully clean up harmful pollution, and short-term particle pollution continues to get worse. In addition, some communities bear a greater burden of air pollution. Out of the nearly 120 million people who live in areas with unhealthy air quality, a disproportionate number – more than 64 million (54%) – are people of color. In fact, people of color were 64% more likely than white people to live in a county with a failing grade for at least one measure, and 3.7 times as likely to live in a county with a failing grade for all three measures. 

Ground-level Ozone Pollution in Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton Metro Area
Compared to the 2022 report, the metro area experienced fewer unhealthy days (improved to a new best ever) of high ozone in this year’s report, marking improvement for a third consecutive year. The weighted average number of days high in ozone decreased from 2.0 to a best-ever 1.3 (both ‘C’ grades) in Northampton County, the area’s worst performing county. Nevertheless, because of much improvement in ozone nationwide, “State of the Air” ranked the metro area as the 65th most polluted city for ozone pollution, slightly worse than its ranking of 67th in last year’s report. Northampton County had posted an ‘F’ grade for an average of 4.3 days high in ozone in the recent 2020 report. Both Lehigh County, PA and Warren County, NJ also improved, and earned their first ‘A’ grades for posting zero unhealthy days of ozone, ranking them among the nation’s cleanest counties.

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 deadly. The metro area’s performance for short-term particle pollution worsened or equaled the previous report’s value for the third consecutive year, adding a “red day” (air quality unhealthy for all) since last year’s report. But because of increases in this pollutant nationwide, the area’s ranking nevertheless improved from 63rd in last year’s report to 74th in this year’s. In this year’s report, Lehigh County remained and is now alone as the county with the worst performance for 24-hour particle pollution in the metro area. It earned a 'C' grade with a weighted average of 1.5 days for short-term particle pollution, worse than its 1.0 day (the best possible ‘C’ grade) in last year’s report. This was the highest average in the area since Northampton County’s 2.0 mark (the worst possible ‘C’) in the 2018 report. Both Northampton and Warren Counties worsened from last year’s values, earning grades of ‘C’ and ‘B,’ respectively, in this year’s report.

The 2023 “State of the Air” found that year-round particle pollution levels in the Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton metro area were higher than in last year’s report but still met the national standard. Lehigh County was again the county with the highest annual average in the metro area for year-round particle pollution. 
The metro area was ranked tied for 79th most polluted for year-round particle pollution, worse than its ranking tied for 88th last year. 

The American Lung Association is calling on President Biden to urgently move forward on several measures to clean up air pollution nationwide, including new pollution limits on ozone and particle pollution and new measures to clean up power plants and vehicles. See the full report results and sign the petition at
For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
[email protected]

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