Lancaster County is being hit especially hard by climate change. The county has warmed 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit since the 19th century, which is 50% more than the continental U.S. average, according to data compiled by The Washington Post.
Climate change is expected to result in a variety of complex problems, including urban heat effects, air pollution and atmospheric and ocean currents.
Air pollution in Lancaster County continues to be among the worst in the nation among metropolitan areas. The air quality for both ozone (smog) and annual levels of fine particulate matter (soot) continue to worsen, according to the latest annual report by the American Lung Association.
Dr. Alan Peterson of Penn Medicine advises all Lancaster County residents to take precautions during high ozone concentration days during the summer. A new study published Tuesday found that people who were exposed for years to higher-than-average concentrations of ground-level ozone developed changes to their lungs similar to those seen in smokers.
Peterson is a board member for the Partnership for Public Health that has established climate change as a major public health issue.
Atmospheric warming associated with climate change has the potential to increase ground-level ozone, which is especially high in Lancaster County. Local emissions from cars, homes, and farms, along with pollutants from distant cities and coal-burning plants react with sunlight in the atmosphere to form the high ozone levels.
Lancaster County’s ozone rating jumped from 84th worst in the country two years ago to 58th worst in the 2019 American Lung Association report.
To add to the ever-growing concern over air pollution and human health in Lancaster County, new research links exposure to small, inhalable particles with an increased risk of death.
Fine particulate matter, which can be inhalable particles from farming activities, car and power plant pollution or smoking, can travel throughout the respiratory tract, accelerating the development of lung damage.
The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that even low levels of particulate matter below health guidelines can increase the risk of death.
With air pollution set to become an even larger problem due to climate change, the health of the population in Lancaster County will be put at an even greater risk.
The warming of Lancaster County caused by climate change, combined with the significant air pollution, puts all Lancaster County residents at risk for serious health concerns.