York's air quality is worse than Philly and Pittsburgh: report

Harper Ho
York Dispatch

York was ranked among places in Pennsylvania with the highest number of low air-quality days, beating even Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, according to a new report.

The city experienced 65 days of polluted air in 2020, putting it fourth among cities in the state with the highest number of unhealthy air days, according to PennEnvironment.

“Even one day of breathing in polluted air has negative consequences for our health,” said PennEnvironment spokesperson Kelly Flanigan. “Our future can truly be better and healthier if we clean up our air."

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None of this is acceptable, Flanigan said, and more needs to be done to improve air quality statewide.

PennEnvironment researchers reviewed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air pollution records from across the country for its report, Trouble in the Air: Millions of Americans Breathed Polluted Air in 2020.

Bryan Miller of Lower Windsor Township fishes from the shore at Long Level along the Susquehanna River Wednesday, March 3, 2021. He says he usually catches pan fish, catfish and smallmouth bass. Over the course of a year, 53 rivers, lakes streams across Pennsylvania were tested for four types of microplastic, including fibers, fragments, film and microbeads. Bill Kalina photo

The study focuses on ground-level ozone and fine-particulate pollution, which is harmful and comes primarily from burning fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline, methane gas and from wildfires, according to PennEnvironment.

“No area is immune to the human-caused effects of climate change,” said State Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City. But York's ranking "is an unacceptable statistic, and even one degraded air quality day is too many,” she added.

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Lancaster  topped the list with 107 days of elevated air pollution in 2020, while Harrisburg saw 97 days and Reading had 82 days, according to the report.

Air pollution increases the risk of premature death, asthma attacks, cancer and other adverse health effects, according to PennEnvironment.

“Breathing clean air is not a political issue — it’s the key to improving and promoting the health of the citizens of the Commonwealth and beyond,” said Kelly Kuhns, chair and professor of nursing at Millersville University and a member of the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments.

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The report recommends that policymakers electrify such things as buildings and transportation, transition to clean renewable energy and strengthen federal air quality standards.

File - In this Friday, Sept. 6, 2019 file photo, commuters make their way along an expressway during rush hour in Beijing. According to Chinese state media, the average concentration of PM2.5 fine air pollutants in Beijing in August was at the lowest level ever recorded for that month. Inger Andersen, head of the U.N. Environment Program, says the world needs 'quick wins to reduce emissions as much as possible in 2020.' Ahead of a global climate summit in Madrid next week, her agency published a report Tuesday showing the amount of planet-heating gases released into the atmosphere hitting a new high last year. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, file)

The report warned that the looming threat of climate change will make existing air pollution problems worse and suggests the state transition to 100% renewable energy. It's also calling on state officials to tackle the climate crisis by supporting Pennsylvania’s entry into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative, market-based effort among Eastern states to cap and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector. 

“Zeroing out pollution from all aspects of our lives will protect our lungs and our climate at the same time,” Flanigan said.

The Biden administration's ambitious $7.5 billion infrastructure plan — still held up in Congress — would jump-start cleaner transportation projects by expanding electric vehicle charging stations and make other investments in climate and clean air solutions.

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