Here’s how many ‘bad air days’ State College had and what that means for your health

Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, speaks at an event about air pollution in the Centre Region on Thursday at Tom Tudek Memorial  Park.
Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, speaks at an event about air pollution in the Centre Region on Thursday at Tom Tudek Memorial Park. kthomasson@centredaily.com

State College had 76 “bad air days” in 2016, according to a new report. That means 76 days where the air pollution was elevated to a level that could pose a health risk.

Nonprofit PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center recently released “Trouble in the Air,” an analysis of how urban and rural areas in Pennsylvania and the rest of the country were affected by air pollution in 2016. State College fell in the middle of the pack when compared to cities across the state.

“This is not just a Pittsburgh problem. This is not just a Philadelphia problem. This is a Pennsylvania-wide problem, and only by calling on our federal government and state government are we actually going to be able to make progress for cleaner air,” said Stephanie Wein, clean water and conservation advocate for PennEnvironment.

Local leaders, including Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, State College Mayor Don Hahn and Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors Chairman Peter Buckland, joined representatives from the organization in an event at Tom Tudek Memorial Park on Thursday to discuss the importance of renewable energy and reducing the carbon footprint.

Conklin applauded how progressive the Centre Region is in its efforts toward making communities better and healthier for the next generation.

“We understand science, we understand technology, and we understand commonsense. And we strive every day to make sure that every individual that lives here has the opportunity to not only succeed but also has an opportunity to live a quality of life that is better than the generation before them,” Conklin said.

Air pollution — smog, particulates and air toxics — is created when fossil fuels such as coal, diesel, gasoline and natural gas are burned. Breathing “bad” air increases risk of premature death, asthma attacks, cardiovascular problems and other adverse health impacts, according to the report.

PennEnvironment used data from the Environmental Protection Agency to compile the report, which shows the number of days in 2016 in which half or more monitoring locations in the country reported elevated ozone (smog) and/or particulate pollution that are considered a risk to people’s health.

Here’s how some Pennsylvania communities fared:

State College: 76 “bad air days” (Population: 162,083)

Altoona: 81 days (Population: 123,927)

DuBois: 35 days (Population: 80,035)

Pittsburgh: 121 (Population: 2,341,536)

Philadelphia and surrounding metropolitan areas: 111 days (Population: 6,077,152)

Harrisburg-Carlisle area: 132 days (Population: 568,008)

Lancaster: 179 days, which was the highest in the state (Population: 539,137)

Wein said that one of the big issues in State College is smog, which develops from the emissions produced by cars and trucks on the many roadways and developments in the area, she said. Another source for air pollution in the Centre Region comes from various agricultural processes, whether it’s the spraying of chemicals or the loose particulate matter from the fields, Wein said.

“We cannot protect our health without protecting our climate and our air quality, and so we call on our elected officials, local, state and national to protect the Clean Air Act, to expand clean car standards and to make sure we take substantive action on climate change and move us towards a renewable energy future here in Pennsylvania,” she said.

According to Buckland, the report shows that “our elected officials and industry are failing to live up to the trust that the people have put in them.”

Hahn also said that community members need to urge their representatives to push for stronger clean air legislation and renewable energy jobs.

“I think that considering our political environment, it is passed time that we can no longer afford to just think globally and act locally,” Hahn said. “At this point, we need to act globally and nationally and we need to insist that our state and federal representatives do the same.”

The individual consumer is “not going to save our air and protect our health — it’s systemic change,” Wein said.