We're still breathing lousy air, study says
BY P.J. REILLY, Staff Writer
Lancaster County's air still stinks.
In its annual report, State of the Air 2013, the American Lung Association gave the Lancaster Metropolitan Area an "F" for its ground-level ozone and a "D" for its levels of soot pollution.
The area is considered the 33rd worst in the nation for its ozone levels and 44th worst for its average long-term soot pollution.
Both are slight improvements over last year's rankings.
"The air in Lancaster County is certainly cleaner than when we started the State of the Air report 14 years ago," said Deb Brown, president and CEO of the ALA of the Mid-Atlantic.
"Even though Lancaster experienced an increase in ozone smog, the air quality is still better compared to a decade ago.
"But the work is not done, and we must set stronger health standards for pollutants and clean up sources of pollution in the York region to protect the health of our citizens."
The ALA's annual report grades cities and counties across the country on levels of ozone and soot collected from monitors by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The latest report uses figures collected from 2009 through 2011.
Ozone, also known as smog, and particle pollution, commonly called soot, are the two most widespread types of air pollution.
Smog, created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles and other sources, can irritate the lungs when inhaled.
It can cause immediate health problems, such as wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death.
High smog levels particularly affect children, but also elderly and people with respiratory ailments, such as asthma.
Soot from particles of dust floating in the air can be deadly because people are inhaling a toxic mix of chemicals, metals, aerosols, ash and diesel exhaust, according to the ALA.
Lancaster's air-quality results have been poor for years. Part of the problem is that prevailing winds blow pollution here from the Washington-Baltimore area and from power plants in western Pennsylvania and the Midwest.
"Lancaster has a tough time of it because we're not starting with a clean slate," said Kevin Stewart, the ALA's director of environmental health. "Lancaster starts off with pollution from other areas, and then we make our own pollution on top of that."
This year's ALA report shows that many places across the country made progress compared to 2008-2010, particularly in lower year-round levels of soot.
As a result of emissions reductions from coal-fired power plants and the transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines, air quality is improving, especially in the eastern United States, according to the report.
Cleaning up major air pollution sources through steps like the cleaner gasoline and cleaner vehicle standards will drastically cut both ozone and soot, according to the ALA.
Despite improvements, State of the Air 2013 found that more than 131.8 million people in the U.S. still live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution.
The dirtiest metropolitan area in the country, according to the ALA, is Bakersfield-Delano, Calif.
It was rated the worst for both daily and long-term average soot levels.
The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside, Calif., area was rated worst for ozone.
The cleanest cities named by the ALA in this year's report are Cheyenne, Wyo., and Ames-Boone, Iowa.
No Pennsylvania cities made the ALA's "cleanest" lists.
For ozone levels, Franklin, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Luzerne, Lycoming and Perry counties scored best in the state, earning "B" grades.
Adams, Beaver, Erie, Lackawanna and Mercer counties all received "B" grades for soot.