Air quality in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre region has showed marked improvement — to the point that a report card to be issued today will reveal the region’s best grades in the 14-year history of the annual survey.
The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2013” report finds that the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area has cut year-round and daily particle (soot) pollution levels since the 2012 report, in keeping with a trend seen across the nation. Along with improvements in particle pollution, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre experienced fewer unhealthy days of high ozone or smog.
Overall, the report shows the air quality in the region, and nationwide, continues the long-term trend to improving.
“The air in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre is certainly cleaner than when we started the ‘State of the Air’ report 14 years ago,” said Deb Brown, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “Scranton/Wilkes-Barre has experienced a great year for air quality, all of the findings this year were in a positive direction. But the work is not done, and we must set stronger health standards for pollutants and clean up sources of pollution in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre to protect the health of our citizens.”
Improvements are credited to emissions reductions from coal-fired power plants and the transition to cleaner diesel fuels and engines, the report finds, especially in the eastern United States.
The association fought for a new, national air quality standard that strengthened outdated limits on annual levels of particle pollution that was announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in December. Thanks to air pollution health standards such as this, set under the Clean Air Act, and the EPA enforcement of these standards, the U.S. has seen continued reductions in air pollution, the report maintains.
“Cleaning up major air pollution sources through steps like the cleaner gasoline and cleaner vehicle standards will drastically cut both ozone and particle pollution. That means more health protections for the nearly 132 million people living in counties with dangerous levels of either ozone or particle pollution,” the press release accompanying the report said. “Those at greatest risk from air pollution include infants, children, older adults, anyone with lung diseases like asthma, people with heart disease or diabetes, people with low incomes and anyone who works or exercises outdoors.”
Looking at particle pollution in 2009, 2010 and 2011, air pollution improvement in the region shows up in Lackawanna County, which not only reduced its year-round average, earning a passing grade, but also its daily, or short-term, measure of days with unhealthy air, improving from last year’s “C” to a “B” this year. There are no grades for Luzerne in this category because there is no monitor collecting this data in the county.
Nationally, Lackawanna County’s rankings improved to 92nd worst metro area for short-term particle pollution, and to 147th worst for the annual measure. Particle pollution levels can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end (short-term) or remain at unhealthy levels on average year-round.
State of the Air 2013 also finds that ozone levels in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties improved, with Lackawanna going from a “D” to a “B” and Luzerne improving from a “C” to “B.” These were the area’s best grades ever.
There are 219 metro areas in the country measured for ozone pollution and 258 metropolitan areas in the country measured for particle pollution.
The report is an annual, national air quality report card. The 2013 report uses the most recent quality-assured air pollution data, compiled by the EPA, in 2009, 2010 and 2011. These data come from the official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone and particle. The report grades counties and ranks cities and counties based on their scores for ozone, year-round particle pollution and short-term particle pollution levels.
Despite improvements, the report found that more than 131.8 million people in the United State still live in counties that have unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution, which equates to more than 4 in 10 people nationwide.