Environment

Millions experienced a month’s worth of high air pollution in 2020

Millions of Pennsylvanians experienced a month’s worth of elevated air pollution levels in 2020

Millions of Pennsylvanians experienced a month’s worth of elevated air pollution levels in 2020 Wikimedia Commons

Millions of Pennsylvanians experienced more than a month’s worth of elevated air pollution levels in 2020, a new report from the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group found. 

Lancaster led the commonwealth in days with elevated ozone, particulate and total pollution levels with 107. Harrisburg had 97 such days, followed by Reading with 82, York-Hanover with 65, and Johnstown and Pittsburgh with 57. 

The report, titled, “Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2020,” reviewed ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution across the country. It found that more than 70% of Americans were exposed to more than a month’s worth of elevated air pollution levels, and the Keystone State is no exception. 

“Even one day of breathing in polluted air has negative consequences for our health and unfortunately millions of Pennsylvanians faced elevated pollution an average of one day a week,” said Zachary Barber, a clean air advocate for PennEnvironment. 

The current Environment Protection Agency standard states that the allowable level of air pollution is 70 parts per billion over eight hours, while the World Health Organization recommends 51 parts per billion. 

This report looked at 2020 data for each county that reported air quality data to the EPA. The air pollutants studied typically come from the burning of fossil fuels and from wildfires, and exposure to these pollutants can lead to higher chances of cancer, fertility and pregnancy problems, asthma, and more. Pennsylvania saw more than 50% of its pollution come from transportation and vehicle emissions in 2017. 

“Children are among those who suffer the most from elevated levels of air pollution, whether they are playing outdoors or spending their days in our aging school buildings,” Philadelphia Councilmember Helen Gym said. “We cannot tolerate small, incremental reforms while our communities are already dealing with the effects of a worsening climate crisis. The need for coordinated federal, state and local action has never been more urgent.”

PennEnvironment held press conferences in Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and the Lehigh Valley to showcase the release. The report recommends electrifying sectors like transportation, increasing the use of renewable energy and strengthening air quality standards to protect public health. 

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