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Air quality improves in Franklin County

Written by Ashley Books/Chambersburg Public Opinion | May 9, 2016 6:59 PM
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Tractor-trailers compete with passenger cars Thursday, May 5, 2016 on a stretch of Interstate 81 near exit 16.(Photo: Markell DeLoatch, Public Opinion)

(Chambersburg) -- People in Franklin County can breathe easier knowing the quality of the air they're breathing has improved within the area, according to the 2016 State of the Air report released by the American Lung Association.

The report focuses on air quality during 2012-2014, and shows the number of days each county had with high ozone levels.

An orange day means the air quality is unhealthy for sensitive people and puts them at a higher risk of health problems due to exposure; a red day means the air quality is unhealthy for all groups of people; and a purple day is considered hazardous, but is also very rare for even the most polluted areas in the United States.

According to the data, Franklin County received an overall grade of a C with four orange days and no red or purple days, compared to the 2015 State of the Air report which covered 2011-2013 and showed Franklin County had five days with high levels of ozone.

Franklin County also did well in terms of ozone levels, compared to other counties in Pennsylvania. The county was one of eight to get a C grade, with the other counties receiving an average grade of D or F. The county also had a weighted average of 1.3, which is calculated by weighting each day with above average ozone levels based on the color of the day, adding up the total number of days and then dividing the number by three.

John Repetz, a spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Protection, said one of the reasons air quality could be improving is because "emission reductions from vehicles, power plants, factories and consumer products have resulted in significant reductions in pollution, providing substantial health and welfare benefits."

Kevin Stewart, director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said Franklin County's location could also be another reason the ozone levels are improving.

"For the most part (Franklin County is) getting relatively clean air to work with, so that your ozone levels don't get that high," Stewart said. "But whatever air pollution is produced locally there gets sent downwind, so some areas then have to deal with the fact that the air they're getting isn't quite as clean as the air that Franklin County is getting."

The report does not show data for fine particle pollution in the area. Stewart said this could be because of the county's low population.

"Franklin County has about 150,000 people, so it's on the small side and therefore not necessarily one of those counties that would need monitored for fine particle pollution, unlike some larger ones," he said.

However, Stewart also said if fine particle pollution was measured in the county, "it probably would've been a passing grade for the long-term average," but "it's hard to tell what it would've been for the short-term average."

Despite the improvement in air quality, Stewart said bad days can still affect populations at risk, which according to the report include children and adults with asthma and residents suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

"It's still a C, which is a passing grade, but at the same time, we always do like to point out that if you have chronic lung disease, you have a child with asthma - one bad air day can still be one bad air day to many in terms of causing some exacerbation," he said.

Residents part of these at-risk populations should watch out for hot and sunny air or air that is moving slow, because ozone is more likely to form on these days.

Stewart said residents can also minimize air pollution by driving vehicles that are properly tuned and avoid spilling gasoline when it is hot out.

*This article is part of a content-sharing partnership between WITF and the Public Opinion Online.

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