Philadelphia and Pittsburgh rank in the top 3 smoggiest cities in the Northeast

PennEnvironment Policy & Research Center

[Philadelphia] —Philadelphians experienced 97 unhealthy air pollution days in 2015 increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts according to a new report from PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center.  

“Even one day with unhealthy air is too many,” said Ash Khayami, a Campaign Organizer with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. 

The report comes during National Public Health Week, a celebration of efforts to tackle the underlying causes of disease – like air pollution – and ensure that all people have a chance to live long and healthy lives. 

“97 days of smog and 212 days of elevated particulate matter in the air around Philadelphia is way too high. These levels are injurious to our lungs and will compromise the breathing of those with respiratory problems,” said Dr. Walter Tsou, Executive Director of Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility, “We need to strengthen, not weaken our clean air standards.” 

“Physicians like myself have observed first-hand the adverse effects of poor air quality on the health of our patients,” said Dr. Ned Ketyer, a local pediatrician and member of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Environmental Health. “Especially the ones among us who are most vulnerable — infants and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and the poor.”

Although our air is less polluted than it was 30 years ago, dirty air is still a major health problem. Despite that fact, President Trump is taking an axe to important programs that could help clean up our air. In just the last month, the Trump Administration has:

  • Instructed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution;
  • Proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, a “get out of jail free card” for polluters;
  • Instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back federal clean cars standards that were supposed to prevent 6 billion metric tons of global warming pollution; and
  • Told the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling.

These actions will have significant health impacts. Blocking the Clean Power Plan alone will slow progress in cleaning our air – leading to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days by 2030.

Our Health at Risk reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Across Pennsylvania, 12 cities had unhealthy levels of air pollution on at least 100 days during 2015, including but not limited to Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Scranton, and Allentown. Pittsburgh had more days with elevated soot pollution in 2015 than any other city east of the Mississippi River. Pittsburgh also ranked third out of cities in the northeastern US for days with elevated smog levels.

“This report should serve as a clarion call to take action on climate change, which is a crisis that is impacting the health of Pennsylvanians and tens of millions of people across the nation,” Senator Casey said.  “The Trump Administration and far right Congressional Republicans should heed the warnings in this report; the steps that President Trump and Congressional Republicans are pursuing will take us backwards on climate change. If EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Congressional Republicans continue to weaken protections for clean air and clean water, while failing to take action on climate change, then I will fight them.”

Many Pennsylvanians may be exposed to air pollution even more severe than described here because they live in local pollution “hotspots,” such as near freeways, airports and industrial facilities – facing greater health impacts. For example, people who live near highly traveled roads are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, and at greater risk of death from stroke, lung disease and heart disease.

“This report highlights that many Americans are still subject to elevated levels of air pollution on many days,” said Albert Presto, a research professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies. “It is an important reminder of how far the country still needs to go to ensure clean air for everyone, and the dangers of allowing the environmental gains of the last 40 years lapse.”

“There’s no safe level of exposure to smog and particulate pollution,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “Elevated levels of air pollution – even levels the federal government says are safe for most people – hurt our health.”

Speakers urged Pennsylvania’s elected leaders to stand up to attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act, to maintain the strength of the nation’s Clean Car Standards, and to accelerate our transition to clean energy.

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, we applaud Senators Casey for continuing to be an environmental champion and urge Senator Toomey to start standing up for our health,” said Ash Khayami. “We urge our Senators to defending clean air safeguards and clean cars standards so that dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”

The full report can be viewed and downloaded here.


PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit