One of Lancaster County's two air pollution monitoring stations is in farm country near the village of Intercourse.

A federal proposal could risk the health of residents in Lancaster County, and across the country, by allowing particle-related air pollution to remain at unsafe levels.

At least, that’s the opinion of officials’ at the American Lung Association, who are advocating for stricter particle pollution limits.

“Fine particle pollution is our nation’s most dangerous air pollutant, causing heart attacks, strokes and lung cancer,” said Kevin M. Stewart, environmental health director with the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania. “Each year, it causes millions of days lost from work or school, up to a million cases of exacerbated asthma and tens of thousands of premature deaths.”

Stewart submitted that comment this spring, when decision makers at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hosted a hearing on their ongoing review of existing particle pollution limits — limits that have not been updated since 2012.

Particle pollution refers to harmful solids and liquid droplets sent airborne by activities like burning, agricultural operations and industrial practices.

Some of those particles are much smaller than the width of a human hair, Stewart said Monday.

“That means they can get into the deepest parts of your lungs,” he said, explaining the particles can then make their way into the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular problems.

Air pollution — which is historically high in Lancaster County — also has been linked to increased cases of asthma, lung cancer and other pulmonary diseases, lung association experts have said. One study linked air pollution and greater susceptibility to COVID-19.

Under the U.S. Clean Air Act, regulators are required to set pollution limits by relying on the “the latest scientific knowledge” to protect public health by providing “an adequate margin of safety.”

And in a 51-page document, EPA officials argue that they have been able to meet that obligation with current rules, which require state regulators to meet daily and annual particle pollution limits.

“Existing standards protect public health, including the health of sensitive groups,” the EPA document reads, also noting recent particle pollution reductions.

Reductions have been made in Lancaster County, but it still ranks 27th worst in the nation for annual particle pollution out of 204 metropolitan areas included in a 2020 American Lung Association report.

And Stewart and his colleagues are advocating for greater protections, which would reduce maximum daily particle pollution limits by 33% and yearly limits by 28%.

They’re also encouraging local residents to submit comments to the EPA. Comments can be submitted online at www.regulations.gov. They must be submitted by Monday.

Related coverage