New report: Millions of Pennsylvanians experienced frequent unhealthy air in 2020

Media Contacts
Zachary Barber

[PITTSBURGH]– Millions of Pennsylvanians suffered through frequent levels of elevated air pollution in 2020, according to a new report from PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group. The study used statistics from 2020, the most recent data available. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks, cancer and other adverse health impacts.

“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, the Clean Air Advocate with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “We need to do more to deliver clean air for our communities.” 

In the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2020, researchers reviewed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air pollution records from across the country. The report focuses on ground-level ozone and fine particulate pollution, which are harmful pollutants that come primarily from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, methane gas and from wildfires. 

“Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to breathe clean, healthy air. Unfortunately, residents here in Philadelphia had to suffer through almost 1.5 months’ worth of elevated air pollution,” said Congressman Dwight Evans (PA-03). “It’s time to ensure that breathing doesn’t jeopardize our health — and that means tightening federal pollution limits and passing bold climate action like the current House version of the Build Back Better bill.”

Supplementing the content of the report is a digital map that visualizes the bad air days across the country in 2020.

“I talk to constituents every day who suffer from asthma and other respiratory diseases that make them vulnerable to breathing issues related to air quality. That includes Americans with long-term COVID or side effects from a COVID infection, a population that grows every day as the pandemic continues,” said Congresswoman Susan Wild (PA-07). “Penn Environment’s report echoes what environmental scientists say over and over again: the number of days with dangerous air quality is going up, and the situation is getting worse. I’m committed to being a partner in this fight, and in building a Pennsylvania that has zero days with elevated ozone levels.”

While the report finds that air pollution problems persist, the solutions for cleaning our air are readily achievable. The report’s authors recommend that policymakers electrify our buildings, equipment and transportation; transition to clean renewable energy; and strengthen federal air quality standards. Congress is considering infrastructure legislation bill that would jumpstart clean transportation projects, set aside $7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations, and make other much-needed investments in climate and clean air solutions.

“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,” said Councilmember Helen Gym (At-Large). “The latest PennEnvironment air quality report underscores just how high the stakes are for Philadelphia. 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 Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit

Frontier Group is a nonpartisan research and policy development center, providing information and ideas to help build a cleaner, healthier and more democratic America.