New Study: Pennsylvanians breathed months of dirty air in 2018

Media Contacts
Zachary Barber

[PITTSBURGH, PA] – Millions of Pennsylvanians across the state are breathing months’ worth of poor air quality due to pollution in 2018, according to a new report released today by the PennEnvironment  Research & Policy Center and Frontier Group. The groups’ report was released as Pittsburgh and other metropolitan areas experienced unhealthy air days this month, an uncommon experience in wintertime for the Commonwealth’s cities. 

“No Pennsylvanian should have to experience a single day of polluted air — let alone several months,” said Zachary Barber, the Clean Air Advocate with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “Air quality will only get worse as our climate warms, so we have no time to lose. We must make progress toward clean air.”

For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2018, 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, harmful pollutants that come from industrial sources and the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, natural gas and from other sources. Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks, and other adverse health impacts.

“As nurses, we see the impacts of air quality each day. As a mother, I’ve seen the impacts of poor air

quality in my own children and among their peers,” said Dr. Kelly Kuhns, Chair of the Department of Nursing at Millersville University and member of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. “Most people understand that air pollution can increase the risk and incidence of asthma and other breathing problems. These risks are especially significant in our most vulnerable populations – our children and our elderly.”  

The report’s troubling findings come at a time when the federal government is further endangering air quality by dismantling protections under the Clean Air Act such as California’s clean car standards, which Pennsylvania had joined.

“The data show that America’s existing air quality standards aren’t doing enough to protect our health,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “As the climate warms, higher temperatures and more severe wildfires increase air pollution and the threat to human health.” 

Recommendations the report called on policymakers at all levels of government to:

  • Oppose the Trump Administration’s rollbacks to critical clean air protections like the Clean Power Plan, the Mercury Air Toxics Standards and clean car rules.

  • Cut pollution from transportation by switching to zero-emission electric vehicles

  • Support Pennsylvania’s proposal to join the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which would dramatically reduce fossil fuel emissions from industrial sources, and the Transportation and Climate Initiative, which would tackle carbon emissions from cars and trucks

  • Rein in the worst sources of industrial pollution including Pittsburgh’s Toxic Ten.

  • Fully fund environmental watchdogs like the PA Department of Environmental Protection 

“We can’t wait for leadership from above – it’s not coming. If we want to protect our air and our water, we have to do it ourselves,” said State Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa. “With the research and activism that PennEnvironment and other groups are doing, I believe we can make real strides in mitigating climate change.”


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