Sunday, April 29, 2012

Clearing the Air, Is the Fog (Smog) Lifting?

Blogger's Note: The following is a press release about an annual air quality report I received and re-wrote to focus on local results.

There's good news and bad news for our region of Pennsylvania in the latest American Lung Association's State of the Air 2012 report.

It found that although the air quality throughout Pennsylvania has generally improved compared to last year’s report, and in fact was at its cleanest since the organization’s first annual report 12 years ago, the commonwealth continued to be represented among the most polluted metropolitan areas in the nation.

A haze covers Center City Philadelphia
The Philadelphia metro area, as well as Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties all improved their scores in categories such as particle pollution and ozone, but they remain among the worst in the nation.

“State of the Air shows that we’re making steady progress in cutting dangerous pollution from the air as a result of cleanup efforts required under the Clean Air Act,” Deb Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said in a prepared release.

“But millions of Americans across the country, including the citizens of Pennsylvania, are still forced to breathe unhealthy levels of air pollution as a result of air quality standards that are outdated," she said.

The report details the trend that standards set under the Clean Air Act to cleanup major air pollution sources — including coal-fired power plants, diesel engines, and SUVs — are working to drastically cut ozone and particle pollution from the air.
The coal-fired Cromby power station outside Phoenixville

Despite the improvements, the job of cleaning the air is not finished. More than 40 percent of people in the United States live in areas where air pollution continues to threaten their health. That means more than 127 million people are living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution that can cause wheezing and coughing, asthma attacks, heart attacks, and premature death.

Those at greatest risk from air pollution include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung diseases like asthma, people with heart disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.

“Particle pollution can be deadly,” said Kevin M. Stewart, director of environmental health of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.

Children are among those most vulnerable to asthma.
“When you breathe particle pollution, you are inhaling a toxic mix of chemicals, metals, aerosols, ash, and diesel exhaust. It can cause asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, emergency room visits and even premature death," Stewart said. "There is absolutely no question regarding the need to protect public health from particle pollution.”

Ozone (smog), the most widespread air pollutant, is created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources.

“When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs, like a bad sunburn,” says Stewart. “It can cause immediate health problems and continue days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death.” 

The Philadelphia-Camden-Vineland Metro Area recorded slightly higher year-round particle pollution levels (going from 13.7 to 13.8 micrograms per cubic meter, with the addition of Chester County monitoring data), and drastically worsening the metro area’s rank from 24th place last year to 10th most polluted city this year.

For short-term particle pollution, even though the area’s maximum number of bad air days improved from 7 to 4.7 days per year (as it turns out, in Philadelphia County), the ranking actually degraded a bit, going from 20th worst to tied for 22nd worst.

Chester County clocked in among the Pennsylvania counties that are among the 25 most polluted in the nation for year-round particle pollution, tying with Madison County, Ill. for 13th worst in the nation.

Pennsylvania continued its seventh straight year of having no counties ranked among the 25 most polluted in the nation for ozone pollution.

However all three of our counties -- Berks, Chester and  Montgomery earned “F” grades.

For High Particle Pollution Days, grades were also mixed.  Montgomery received a “B” grade and Berks received a "C." There was not enough data collected in Chester County for a grade to be assigned.

For Annual Average Particle Pollution, all three counties had enough data to determine a grade and all three received “Pass” grades.

In ozone air pollution (smog), the Philadelphia-Camden-Vineland metro Area worsened from 20th last year to 16th most polluted city this year. Even though fewer bad air days were recorded for ozone in this year’s report, the ranks changed unfavorably because smog levels in other metro areas had improved even more.

Although air quality improvements clearly result from standards put into place under the Clean Air Act, big polluters and some members of Congress continue to propose to dismantle the law, the American Lung Association said in its release.

Recent proposals in the Congress have included delaying implementation and blocking enforcement of parts of the law, and limiting the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to consider all of the scientific evidence regarding the harm to public health. These challenges come despite EPA’s estimate that cutting air pollution through the Clean Air Act will prevent at least 230,000 deaths and save $2 trillion annually by 2020.

“Dangerous and potentially deadly levels of smog and particle pollution continue to affect public health,” said Brown. “Cleanups have resulted in healthier air to breathe in other parts of the country, but people in Pennsylvania and more than 40 percent of our nation are still breathing dangerously polluted air. We must continue to fight for clean air and demand the full implementation of the Clean Air Act.”

Here are some results from other parts of the state:

Air quality around Pittsburgh is among the state's worst
  • In particle pollution (soot), the Pittsburgh-New Castle Metro Area, though still not passing the annual air quality standard, had lower year-round levels (down to 16.0 micrograms per cubic meter from 17.0 in the previous report) and significantly fewer bad air days for daily particle pollution (from 32.5 to 26.3). The metro area came in at sixth worst in the nation for both measures of particle pollution, a small stumble from 7th worst last year for year-round particle pollution as Phoenix, Az., improved even more, but the best rank ever recorded for the short-term measure, improving from 3rd worst in last year’s report.

Air quality around Lancaster is getting better
  • In south central Pennsylvania, positive findings were the improvement of year-round particle pollution levels sufficient to remove both the Lancaster and York-Hanover-Gettysburg metro areas from the list of 25 most polluted cities for this pollutant – a decrease to 12.6 micrograms per cubic meter from 13.8 in the previous report resulted in Lancaster’s rank improving from 22nd to 32nd worst; York’s change from 13.7 to 12.2 micrograms per cubic meter produced an even greater improvement in rank—from 24th to 45th worst. In contrast, the Harrisburg-Carlisle-Lebanon metro area, went in the opposite direction of Lancaster and of much of the rest of the country, when its number of bad air days for particle pollution increased from 4.3 to 6.3 days per year, and shockingly shifted the area’s rank from 39th worst to 17th, placing the metro area on the list of 25 most polluted cities for this pollutant measure.
The American people support the need for stricter limits on air pollution standards and the authority of the EPA to enforce these standards, the ALA reports.

A recent bipartisan survey found that about two-thirds of voters (66 percent) favor the EPA updating air pollution standards by setting stricter limits. Nearly three quarters (73 percent) of voters believe the nation does not have to choose between air quality and a strong economy.

State of the Air 2012 grades cities and counties based, in part, on the color-coded Air Quality Index developed by the EPA to alert the public to daily unhealthy air conditions.

The 13th annual report uses the most recent, quality-controlled EPA data collected from 2008 through 2010 from official monitors for ozone and particle pollution, the two most widespread types of air pollution. Counties are graded for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels. The report also uses EPA’s calculations for year-round particle levels.

The American Lung Association in Pennsylvania urges the public to join the fight for clean air and to learn how to protect themselves and their families from air pollution by visiting

No comments:

Post a Comment