News & Events

Lehigh Valley One of the Smoggiest Mid-Sized Metros, PennEnvironment Says

Monday, September 26, 2011

Last week, Chris Cocca of the Air Quality Partnership joined Rep. Steve Samuelson and PennEnvironment for a press conference at the Lehigh County Government Center addressing this issue. PennEnvironment's release, with quotes from Cocca and Samuelson:

Allentown, Pennsylvania: Today PennEnvironment released a new report showing that the Allentown metropolitan area was the 13th smoggiest in the nation of similarly sized municipalities. Smog is a harmful air pollutant that leads to asthma attacks and exacerbates respiratory illnesses, especially among children and the elderly. The new report, Danger in the Air: Unhealthy Air Days in 2010 and 2011, also found that there were 35 days in 2010 in Pennsylvania when at least part of the state experienced smog levels exceeding the national health standard, making it the sixth smoggiest state in the nation. Also, this summer, residents in the Allentown area have already been alerted to unhealthy air on 12 days.

“Pennsylvanians deserve clean air. But on far too many days, people in the Allentown area are exposed to dangerous smog pollution,” said Meredith Meisenheimer, Preservation Associate for PennEnvironment. “For the sake of our children, we must make every day a safe day to breathe.”

The new report ranks cities in Pennsylvania and across the country for the number of days when the air was unhealthy to breathe due to smog pollution last year and this summer, and includes new data showing that the problem is even worse than the public thought. Overall, seven metropolitan areas in Pennsylvania are among the top 30 smoggiest large and mid-sized metropolitan areas in the country.

The research shows that on 9 additional days last year, residents in the Allentown area were exposed to smog levels that a national scientific panel has found to be dangerous to breathe, but because of outdated federal air quality rules, those at risk were never alerted to unhealthy air levels.

PA Rep. Steve Samuelson and Chris Cocca with the Air Quality Partnership of Lehigh Valley-Berks joined PennEnvironment in releasing today’s report in the Lehigh County Government Building in downtown Allentown.

Smog is one of the most harmful air pollutants, and is also one of the most pervasive. Smog is formed when pollution from cars, power plants, and industrial facilities reacts with other pollutants in the presence of sunlight. Smog is of particular concern in the summer months when warmer temperatures lead to the build-up of higher concentrations of smog pollution.

On days with elevated levels of smog pollution, children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illness suffer the most. Children who grow up in areas with high levels of smog may develop diminished lung capacity, putting them at greater risk of lung disease later in life.

Cocca said, “Because of smog pollution, too many Pennsylvanians are breathing air that makes us sick. Three groups that we, as a Commonwealth, should be in the business of protecting, the very young, the elderly, and those of us with congential respiratory problems, are at even greater risk. All Pennsylvanians deserve clean air, and should demand it."

Gas and oil drilling activities in Pennsylvania and across the country also contribute significantly to smog pollution in our cities. Each year, oil and gas industry activities emit more than 2.2 million tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) nationwide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed rules that would cut this pollution by one-quarter, along with other harmful emissions, helping relieve the unhealthy air days plaguing Pennsylvania according to the report. The agency’s public comment period on this proposed rule will end on October 24th.

Additionally, children exposed to smog in the womb can experience lower birth weight and growth retardation. Even among healthy adults, repeated exposure to smog pollution over time permanently damages lung tissues, decreases the ability to breathe normally, exacerbates chronic diseases like asthma, and can even cause premature death.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the Environmental Protection Agency is required to set a national standard for smog pollution according to the latest science on air quality and public health. However, the current standard was set at a level that EPA’s own board of independent scientists agrees is not adequately protective of public health. The Obama administration considered updating the standard this year to protect public health, but the president decided earlier this month to abandon this effort until 2013. PennEnvironment and prominent public health groups expressed deep disappointment with his decision.

“For too long, smog pollution has left our children gasping for breath,” said Meisenheimer. “Unfortunately, rather than acting decisively to protect our kids from dangerous air pollution, President Obama chose to kick the can dow