For anyone concerned about the quality of the air we breathe — which should be, well kind of everyone — an American Lung Association report released Tuesday was discouraging.

The York County metropolitan area received two fails in the 15th annual "State of the Air" report.

The report uses air pollution data compiled by the Environmental Protection Agency for 2010 through 2012 and ranks 217 metro areas in three categories.

York County — which was analyzed as part of the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon area — was 18th worst in the country for short-term particle pollution, made up of soot, dust and aerosols. It was 64th worst for ozone pollution, or smog.

We only received a passing grade — meaning we met the national air quality standard — for year-round particle pollution. Although, even there, 184 areas managed to do better than us.

That doesn't exactly make us breathe easier.

Everyone should be concerned because both particle and smog pollution can cause serious health problems, according to Kevin Stewart, the Mid-Atlantic director of environmental health for the American Lung Association.

Smog is a powerful respiratory irritant that sears lung tissues and can affect even healthy people's ability to breathe, he said, adding particle pollution can enter the bloodstream, leading to heart attack and even death in people with heart disease.


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York's air is better than it was 15 years ago, according to the recent report. And nationwide, year-round particle pollution levels have declined as a result of the Clean Air Act, which was introduced in 1963 and amended several times.

It's important to keep that law strong if progress is to be made, Stewart said.

Coincidentally, the Supreme Court reinforced the Clean Air Act on the same day the American Lung Association released its latest "State of the Air" report.

In a 6-2 ruling Tuesday, the court upheld federally imposed limits on emissions from power plants in 28 states, including Pennsylvania. The ruling solidified a decades-long EPA effort to reduce smokestack emissions that pollute the air in downwind states.

That's a win for Pennsylvania, particularly the York metro area.

Stewart couldn't pinpoint exactly why our air is so bad, but said it's likely some of the pollution is coming from nearby Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and the Ohio River Valley.

And, of course, Pennsylvania is contributing to the air-quality problems of other states. In fact, the defendant in the recent Supreme Court case was a power plant in Indiana County.

The bottom line, as the saying goes, is air pollution knows no boundaries.

It's everyone's problem, and it will take a concerted, continuing effort to clean up the mess.

Tell your representative in Congress you care about clean air.