Study Shows Harrisburg Area Ranked 37th Most Polluted in U.S., Second Worst in Mid-Atlantic

Harrisburg-York-Lebanon, PA metro area’s year-round level of particle pollution worsens for third consecutive year, earns an F grade and ranked 37th most polluted in the nation and second most polluted in the Mid-Atlantic (defined for this report as DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA, WV) for the measure—right behind the Pittsburgh metro area, according to the American Lung Association’s 2024 “State of the Air” report, released today. The metro area’s daily measure for particle pollution improves but still earns a D grade and ranks third worst in Mid-Atlantic for the value. Ozone smog in the metro area ties its best-ever record in last year’s report and earns a B grade.

“In the 25 years that the American Lung Association has been doing our ‘State of the Air’ report, we have seen incredible improvement in the nation’s air quality. Unfortunately, more than 131 million people still live in places with unhealthy levels of air pollution, and the Harrisburg metro area still has work to do,” said Aimee VanCleave, Director of the Advocacy for the American Lung Association. “Climate change is making air pollution more likely to form and more difficult to clean up, so there are actions we can and must take to improve air quality in Pennsylvania, including adopting zero-emission standards for passenger vehicles and heavy-duty trucks. We are also calling on EPA to set long-overdue stronger national limits on ozone pollution.”

The Lung Association’s 25th annual “State of the Air” report grades exposure to unhealthy levels of ground-level ozone air pollution, annual particle pollution and short-term spikes in particle pollution over a three-year period. This year’s report includes air quality data from 2020-2022 and is updated to reflect the new annual particle pollution standard that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized in February.

Ground-level Ozone Pollution in the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon, PA metro area:

The “State of the Air” report looked at levels of ozone “smog,” the air pollutant affecting the largest number of people in the United States. The Harrisburg-York-Lebanon, PA metro area ranked 116th worst in the nation for ozone pollution. The ranking was based on the area’s worst county’s average number of unhealthy days—0.3 days per year, a B grade, in Adams and Dauphin Counties, PA. This was better than the area’s ranking in last year’s report of 111th worst, also with 0.3 days per year and a B grade.

Particle Pollution in the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon, PA metro area:

The report also tracked short-term spikes in particle pollution, which can be extremely dangerous and even deadly. The Harrisburg metro area ranked 53rd worst in the nation for short-term particle pollution. The

ranking was based on the area’s worst county’s average number of unhealthy days—2.3 days per year, a D grade, in Dauphin County, PA. This was better than the area’s ranking in last year’s report of 43rd worst, with 3.2 days per year, also a D grade.

For the year-round average level of particle pollution, the area’s worst county, Dauphin County, PA received a failing grade for a pollution level of 9.9 micrograms per cubic meter—worse than the 9 micrograms per cubic meter federal standard, according to the recent update by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. This resulted in the Harrisburg metro area ranking 37th worst in the nation. This was the same as the area’s ranking in last year’s report of 37th worst  for its long-term average of 9.6 micrograms per cubic meter, which had earned a passing grade under the previous weaker standard.

In addition to the Harrisburg-York-Lebanon, PA metro area metro area, other notable findings across Pennsylvania include:

  • The Scranton-Wilkes Barre, PA metro area (Wyoming Valley), ranks among the cleanest in the nation for ozone smog for a second year in a row; and continues to earn a B grade for its daily measure of particle pollution.
  • The Lancaster, PA metro area improves for all three pollutant measures, including its fifth straight year for ozone smog. The area earns failing grades for daily and year-round particle pollution measures, ranking second and fourth worst, respectively, in Mid-Atlantic.
  • The Philadelphia-Reading-Camden, PA-NJ-DE-MD metro area improved for all three pollutant measures in this year’s report, including setting new record best-ever values for ozone smog and year-round particle pollution. Despite improvement in ozone, it still earns a failing grade and is now worst-ranked in the Mid-Atlantic region for ozone smog.

The “State of the Air” report found that nationally, more than 131 million people live in an area that received a failing grade for at least one measure of air pollution, and 43.9 million people live in areas with failing grades for all three measures. In the three years covered by this report, individuals in the U.S. experienced the highest number of days when particle pollution reached “very unhealthy” and “hazardous” levels in the history of reporting the “State of the Air.” Communities of color are disproportionately exposed to unhealthy air and are also more likely to be living with one or more chronic conditions that make them more vulnerable to air pollution, including asthma, diabetes and heart disease. The report found that a person of color in the U.S. is more than twice as likely as a white individual to live in a community with a failing grade on all three pollution measures.

Both ozone and particle pollution can cause premature death and other serious health effects such as asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, preterm births and impaired cognitive functioning later in life. Particle pollution can also cause lung cancer.

EPA recently finalized new air pollution rules that will help clean up particle pollution and address climate change. Now, the Lung Association is urging EPA to set long overdue stronger national limits on ozone pollution. Stronger limits would help people protect themselves and drive cleanup of polluting sources across the country. See the full report results and sign the petition at Lung.org/SOTA.