Lancaster’s Air Quality Improved for All Three Pollutant Measures, Finds 2020 ‘State of the Air’ Report, to Best Ever for Both Measures of Particle Pollution.

American Lung Association’s annual air quality report finds nearly half of Americans breathing unhealthy air

Editor’s Note: The full report, as well as UPDATED trend charts and rankings for metropolitan areas and county grades WILL BE available at beginning at 12:01 a.m. EDT April 21, 2020.

The American Lung Association’s 2020 “State of the Air” report found the Lancaster County metro area’s air quality, posted better results for all three measures of air pollution tracked. The report gives grades and ranks for ozone smog and fine particle pollution. These are the nation’s most widespread air pollutants, and both can be deadly.

The area’s year-round level of fine particle pollution showed enough improvement that the single-county metro area advanced from 15th worst in the country last year to 27th worst in the current report, taking the metro area just barely off the list of 25 cities nationwide with the highest levels of that pollutant.

For the measure of daily spikes of fine particle pollution, Lancaster County improved enough that it earned the metro area’s first grade of “C” under the current daily standard for fine particle pollution—with six days high in this pollutant during 2016 through 2018. This performance followed several years when Lancaster’s air quality was among the worst in the nation and finally broke the previous record of seven unhealthy days (and a “D” grade), as measured under the current standard, that was set in the 2011 “State of the Air” report that examined data from 2007 through 2009. Lancaster’s ranking improved from 28th worst in the country in last year’s report to 40th worst.

For ozone smog pollution, Lancaster improved over its failing grade in last year’s “State of the Air” report to earn once more a passing grade (a “D” for 9 days with unhealthy air during the reporting period). As a result, the metro area’s ranking improved from 58th worst in the nation in last year’s report to 74th worst in the current issue. Lancaster had previously received passing grades in reports in 2017 and 2018. Its best grade remains a “C” in 2017. 

The Lung Association’s annual air quality “report card” tracks Americans’ exposure to unhealthful levels of particle pollution and ozone during a three-year period. Once again, the report found that nearly half of all Americans were exposed to unhealthy air in 2016-2018. In Lancaster, ozone pollution placed the health of over 540,000 residents at risk, including those who are more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution such as older adults, children and those with a lung disease.

“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act, which has been responsible for dramatic improvements in air quality. However, Lancaster area residents continue to breathe some of the more unhealthy air in the country, driven by emissions from vehicles and industrial sources, both locally generated as well as from upwind, placing their health and lives at risk,” said American Lung Association Director of Environmental Health Kevin Stewart. “Furthermore, with nearly half of Americans breathing unhealthy air, our ‘State of the Air’ report shows that nationally, because of climate change, the nation is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to protecting public health.”

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, 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 asthma attacks, cardiovascular damage, and developmental and reproductive harm. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer, and new research links air pollution to the development of serious diseases, such as asthma and dementia.

This year’s report covers 2016, 2017 and 2018, the years with the most recent quality-assured data available collected by states, cities, counties, tribes and federal agencies. Notably, those three years were among the five hottest recorded in global history. Rising temperatures lead to increased levels of ozone pollution. Changing climate patterns also fuel wildfires and their dangerous smoke, which increase particle pollution. Ozone and particle pollution threaten everyone, especially children, older adults and people living with a lung disease. Although this report does not cover data from 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of air pollution on lung health is of heightened concern. Learn more about that at

Ozone Pollution in Lancaster

Compared to the 2019 report, Lancaster experienced one day fewer of unhealthy levels of ozone in this year’s report, enough to nudge the county from a grade of “F” to a “D.” This report marks the third time that Lancaster earned a passing grade under the current ozone standard
“Ozone pollution can harm even healthy people, but is particularly dangerous for children, older adults and people with lung diseases such as COPD or asthma,” said Stewart. “Breathing ozone-polluted air can trigger asthma attacks in both adults and children with asthma, which can land them in the doctor’s office or the emergency room. Ozone can even shorten people’s lives.”

This report documents that warmer temperatures brought by climate change are making ozone more likely to form and harder to clean up. Significantly more people suffered unhealthy ozone pollution in the 2020 report than in the last three “State of the Air” reports.

Particle Pollution in Lancaster

For the second straight year, “State of the Air” 2020 found that the year-round average particle pollution level in Lancaster County improved to its best ever, and also met the air quality standard.

“Particle pollution can lodge deep in the lungs and can even enter the bloodstream. It can trigger asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes and cause lung cancer,” said Stewart. Particle pollution comes from industry, coal-fired power plants, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices.

“Year-round particle pollution levels had dropped in recent years thanks to the cleanup of coal-fired power plants and the retirement of old, dirty diesel engines. However, the increase we’ve seen nationally in particle pollution in this year’s report is a troubling reminder that we must increase our efforts to reduce this dangerous pollution,” said Stewart.

“State of the Air” 2020 also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even lethal. The report showed that the metro area’s performance for this measure improved for the third consecutive year. Lancaster County’s grade changed from an “F” to a “C,” the metro area’s first passing grade under the current daily fine particle pollution standard since the report in 2013. 

“We all have the right to breathe clean, healthy air. The 50th anniversary of the Clean Air Act serves as a critical reminder that Americans breathe healthier air today because of this landmark law,” said Stewart. “At the same time, this year’s report shows that we must stand up for clean air—especially to safeguard our most vulnerable community members. Our leaders, both here in Pennsylvania and at the federal level, must take immediate, significant action to ward off climate change and other threats to the quality of the air we all breathe.”

While the report examined data from 2016-2018, this 21st annual report also provides air pollution trends back to the first report. Learn more about Lancaster’s rankings, as well as air quality across the Commonwealth and the nation, in the 2020 “State of the Air” report at For media interested in speaking with an expert about lung health, healthy air, and threats to air quality, contact Valerie Gleason at [email protected] or 717-971-1123.

For more information, contact:

Valerie Gleason
[email protected]

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