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Read the latest from HealthFirstPA partners and other organizations concerned about how harmful pollution and other environmental factors affect public health.


Updated: Feb 10, 2023

By The Environmental Health Project

How do respiratory hazards affect us?

Air pollution is one of the biggest environmental risks to health, often resulting in premature death. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), respiratory hazards that threaten our health can exist in various forms, such as gases, vapors, dusts, mists, fumes, smoke, sprays, and fog. When inhaled, these chemicals can bypass our body’s protective mechanisms, enter the deep lung, and cross into our circulatory system, exerting their effects along the way. Some hazards, like carbon monoxide, are short-acting, which means they work quickly and can detrimentally affect one’s health within minutes. Others, like formaldehyde, are long-acting and have been shown to cause long-term health impacts, such as cancer and damage to the liver, kidneys, and central nervous system. For a full list of chemical carcinogens, visit the National Cancer Institute or explore PubMed.

What are the most common air pollutants?

Some of the most commonly known air pollutants as reported by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are particulate matter (often referred to as “particle pollution” or “PM”), ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide. These pollutants can harm human health and the environment, and all of these are released or formed during shale gas development processes.

By Celerah Hewes for Moms Clean Air Force

Families living on the frontlines of oil and gas have an updated tool at their fingertips. The new analysis in the Oil & Gas Threat Map released by Earthworks and FracTracker shows that more than 17.3 million people, including 3.9 million children under 18, live within a half-mile threat radius of active oil and gas operations. This is an increase of 4.7 million people since the last time Earthworks updated their analysis in 2017. When families and individuals live within the threat radius, they are more at risk of health impacts from methane and other harmful pollution emitted by oil and gas operations. The Oil & Gas Threat Map is a powerful tool that highlights the need for strong methane rules to protect the health of families and the climate.

Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas, and it’s a powerful greenhouse gas pollutant that is fueling the climate crisis. Oil and gas companies leak methane at the rate of more than 16 million metric tons a year into the atmosphere when they extract, store, and transport oil and gas throughout the supply chain. This is the equivalent of the climate pollution from all of the nation’s passenger vehicles in a year.

By Moms Clean Air Force

Pennsylvania is the third largest greenhouse gas polluting state in the nation

As the third largest greenhouse gas-polluting state in the nation, Pennsylvania has an outsize responsibility to cut climate-warming pollution. One of the state’s largest greenhouse gas polluters of carbon dioxide is the power sector—coal and natural gas power plants that generate electricity. Currently there are no limits on the amount of carbon dioxide these power plants can spew into the air. Coal plants are the worst in regard to air pollution from the power sector, and with six of them in the state, they are a major contributor to the state’s climate pollution.

Pennsylvanians are experiencing climate change today with increased flooding causing landslides, extreme weather, and ticks that carry Lyme disease. Pennsylvania has the most cases of Lyme disease in the nation. Pennsylvania’s 2020 Climate Change Impacts Assessment projects that every county will continue to get warmer and wetter particularly in winter and spring.

Pennsylvania is taking action to cut carbon pollution

Thankfully, Governor Wolf has recognized that Pennsylvania has a serious carbon pollution problem and signed an Executive Order last year to direct the state to reduce its carbon pollution by participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). RGGI (pronounced “Reggie”) is a multi-state effort designed to cut carbon pollution from power plants across 10 of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

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