York County's air is still more polluted than most other metro areas' around the country.
That's the conclusion of an annual "State of the Air" report released Tuesday from the American Lung Association and promoted as an air-quality "report card" for the York-Hanover-Gettysburg area.
Locally and nationally, there's a positive trend toward healthier air. That's the good news.
But, in York County specifically, short-term soot pollution levels are up compared to recent years - earning the area an "F" from the American Lung Association. Short-term pollution refers to particle levels that "spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end," according to a news release.
Long-term pollution refers to unhealthy levels on average every day throughout the year. In that category, the association gave York County a passing grade in 2013.
But, compared to 200 other metro areas, York and Adams counties still have a long way to go.
The area ranked 50th worst in the nation for long-term pollution.
Short-term pollution levels are significant enough that York-Adams ranked 26th worst - just missing the dubious honor of being named one of the 25 most polluted areas in the nation. Last year, the area ranked 53rd in that category.
Ozone pollution - also known as smog -is also a problem here. York County earned an "F" in that category.
According to the lung association, inhaled ozone irritates the lungs and can cause immediate health problems like coughing, wheezing, asthma attacks and death.
"The air in the York region is certainly cleaner than when we started the 'State of the Air' report 14 years ago," Deb Brown, president and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said in a news release. "Even though the York region experienced increases in particle pollution, the air quality is still better compared to a decade ago."
But, Brown said, "the work is not done."
"We must set stronger health standards for pollutants and clean up sources of pollution in the York region to protect the health of our citizens," she said.
The American Lung Association estimates more than 131.8 million people in the U.S. live in counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. The group advocates stronger limitations on particle pollution and cleaner vehicle standards.
Why is air pollution such a problem in York County?
Kevin Stewart, the association's director of environmental health, said it's hard to say. Some of the pollution is likely wafting from larger metro areas, such as Baltimore and Washington, D.C., he said.
"Not exactly sure what exactly is going on here," he said. "There are some complicated things that are happening."
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