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High levels of smog and pollen present growing threat to Pennsylvanians

Wes Venteicher
| Wednesday, July 12, 2017, 5:51 p.m.
In this Aug. 14, 2001 file photo, pollen on a ragweed plant in is seen Newark, N.J.
In this Aug. 14, 2001 file photo, pollen on a ragweed plant in is seen Newark, N.J.

A warming climate is intensifying smog and pollen and the health problems they are associated with, hitting Pennsylvania especially hard, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council analysis.

The commonwealth, where average temperatures have risen 2 degrees since the early 1900s, ranks fourth for the percentage of people living in counties with high levels of smog and ragweed pollen, according to an analysis the organization released this week .

Seventy-six percent of residents live in counties with high levels of ragweed and smog days, including most of Southwestern Pennsylvania, according to the analysis.

Connecticut, Rhode Island and Illinois ranked worse than Pennsylvania.

Increasing sunlight and temperatures speed up the process by which pollution from power plants, vehicles and other sources forms ground-level ozone, which contributes to smog, according to the analysis.

Rising carbon dioxide levels enhance growth of ragweed and other pollen-producing plants and lengthen warm seasons during which pollen grows, creating higher-concentration allergy seasons that last longer, the analysis states.

For most Americans, the changes would irritate the senses. But for young children, older adults and asthma sufferers, the changes could be more harmful, the report states.

The analysis cites a U.S. Global Change Research Program report saying smog and pollen contribute to missed school and work days, more doctor visits, higher medical costs and a rise in premature deaths each year.

The report calls on companies and policymakers to take steps to stop climate change.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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