Harrisburg-York-Lebanon Metro Area’s Air Quality, for Second Year, Had Best Results for All Three Pollutant Measures, Finds 2020 ‘State of the Air’ Report. Area No Longer Appears on Any “Worst 25 Cit

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 www.Lung.org/SOTA beginning at 12:01 a.m. EDT April 21, 2020.

The American Lung Association’s 2020 “State of the Air” report found the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon metro area’s air quality, for the second consecutive year, posted its best results ever 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, based on the result from whichever county had the worst annual average, showed enough improvement that the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon metro area advanced from 24th worst in the country last year to 41st worst in the current report, taking the metro area off the list of 25 cities nationwide with the highest levels of that pollutant.

For the average measure of daily spikes of fine particle pollution, all counties in the metro area with sufficient data for grades to be determined either improved or remained unchanged. York County improved enough that it earned the metro area’s first grade of “A”—with zero days high in this pollutant—under the current daily standard for fine particle pollution. That placed this county on the list of cleanest counties in the nation for this pollutant.

For ozone smog pollution, a notable finding was that for the first time under the current standard, all counties with sufficient data to be assigned grades earned passing marks. As a result, the metro area’s ranking improved from 47th worst in the nation in last year’s report to 81st worst in the current edition.

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 this 6-county metro area in central Pennsylvania, ozone pollution placed the health of over 1,260,000 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, Harrisburg, York, and Lebanon 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 www.Lung.org/covid-19.

Ozone Pollution in the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon Metro Area

Compared to the 2019 report, most counties in the metro area experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report. Only Adams County had a slight uptick, with its grade going from a “C” to a “D.”  However, Dauphin, Lebanon, and York Counties improved, all earning passing grades, the latter two improving from “F” grades in last year’s report, and Lebanon County garnering its first passing grade under the current ozone standard. This report marks the first time that all counties in the metro area with data for ozone smog earned a set of all-passing grades 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 the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon Metro Area
For the second straight year, “State of the Air” 2020 found that year-round particle pollution levels in all five metro area counties with data for this measure improved compared with the previous year’s report. The results give the metro area its best performance ever. All values meet 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 improved for the fourth consecutive year for this measure. Except for Adams County matching its single day with unhealthy air reported in last year’s report, the current report found that all counties in the metro area with enough data to be graded had fewer days when short-term particle pollution reached unhealthy levels. The most notable was York County’s change from a “B” to an “A,” the metro area’s first under the current daily fine particle pollution standard. 

“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 Harrisburg, York, and Lebanon’s rankings, as well as air quality across the Commonwealth and the nation, in the 2020 “State of the Air” report at Lung.org/sota. 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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