Trouble in the Air: Pennsylvania’s health at risk with high numbers of dirty air days in 2016

Media Contacts
Kelly Flanigan

PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

[Pennsylvania] – As the Trump administration considers weakening federal air quality and global warming emissions standards, air pollution remains a threat to public health in communities across Pennsylvania.

The new report by the PennEnvironment  Research & Policy Center found the following levels of degraded air days in 2016, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks, and other adverse health effects:

  • In Lancaster, 539,137 people experienced 179 days of degraded air quality in 2016, equaling almost 1 out of every 2 days.

  • In Harrisburg, 568,008 people experienced 132 days of degraded air quality in 2016, equaling more than 1 out of every 3 days.

  • In Pittsburgh, 2,341,536 people experienced 121 days of degraded air quality in 2016, equaling about 1 out of every 3 days.

  • In the Philadelphia region, 6,077,152 people experienced 111 days of degraded air quality in 2016, equaling about 3 out of every 10 days.

“All Pennsylvanians should be able to breathe clean air. Even one day with polluted air is too many,” said Ashleigh Deemer, Western PA Director with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “To make dirty air days a thing of the past, we need to strengthen existing air quality protections and reduce global warming pollution.”

“People have a right to clean air. They have a right to go outside and enjoy their neighborhood without worry that the air will make them sick or trigger an asthma attack, said Pittsburgh Councilwoman Deb Gross. “People in my own district have been impacted by industrial pollution, right in their own backyards. We, as a region, need to get serious about protecting public health.”

For the report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathe Polluted Air, the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center, Frontier Group and the PennPIRG Education Fund reviewed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and particulate pollution – harmful pollutants that come from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline and natural gas.

“Ozone pollution and particle pollution are two of the most widespread and dangerous air pollutants,” said Dr. Robert Little, President of Harrisburg Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Breathing these pollutants can cause asthma attacks, respiratory and cardiovascular harm, and even early death.”

“High ozone and particulate matter in our outdoor air makes breathing harder and puts stress on our hearts and lungs,” said Dr. Walter Tsou, Executive Director of Philadelphia Physicians for Social Responsibility. “We have to clean up the air because you can’t tell people to stop breathing.”

“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. “Even low levels of smog and particulate pollution are bad for health and can increase deaths.”

These troubling findings come at a time when the Trump administration prepares to weaken the federal clean car standards, a critical program to cut global warming emissions and increase fuel efficiency.

The report’s authors called on the federal government to strengthen, not weaken, the clean car standards and continue to allow states to adopt stronger vehicle pollution standards. The authors also called on EPA to strengthen ozone and particulate pollution standards.

“Invisible and some visible substances infiltrate our homes and negatively impact our children as they play,” said Salena King of Moms Clean Air Force. “Whether they are on the playgrounds or sport fields across the nation, we must implement stricter sanctions to protect our most vulnerable and precious citizens.”

“Our children are counting on us to be good stewards of the environment, said Rep. Scott Conklin (D-Centre). “We must continue to strive every day to improve the quality of the air that we breathe, the water that we drink and to conserve the resources that we have in abundance for future generations.”

“To protect our health, we must keep cutting smog, particulate pollution and global warming emissions,” said Deemer. “We must accelerate our progress, not hit the brakes on effective programs like the federal clean car standards.”


PennEnvironment  Research & Policy Center is 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.