Health Department: Air Quality Worsened During SEPTA Strike

More people drove, so air quality dropped.

'Station Closed' sign at SEPTA El stop, man smoking in background

The entrance to the Market-Frankford Line and the underground concourse at 12th Street is closed on the first day of the SEPTA strike | Photo by Dan McQuade

If it was a little harder to breathe the first week of November, you weren’t just hyperventilating at the possibility of President Trump.

According to the the Philadelphia Department of Health, air quality was markedly worse during the six-day SEPTA strike. “At its peak, during morning rush hours, levels of fine particles, known as PM2.5, were four times higher during the strike than before,” the Health Department says in a release.

PM2.5 is an abbreviation for fine particulate matter, an air pollutant that is able to travel into deeply into the lungs. “Exposure to fine particles can cause short-term health effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath,” writes the New York Department of Health. “Exposure to fine particles can also affect lung function and worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease. Scientific studies have linked increases in daily PM2.5 exposure with increased respiratory and cardiovascular hospital admissions, emergency department visits and deaths.”

“The quality of our air matters to everyone,” Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said in a release. “That means all of us should do what we can to help reduce air pollution.”

Per a city spokesperson, the city’s air is sampled at stations throughout the city. Instruments at these monitoring stations send information on current air quality to the department’s computer system at the Air Management Services Laboratory, at Lycoming St. and Castor Ave. in Juniata. The city measures air pollution in real time in order to avoid missing any instances of high pollution.

The Health Department said it notified the public about the decrease in air quality in order to stress the importance of public transportation and other non-car modes of transport. During the strike, more people drove instead of using mass transit. The Health Department also says it supports “complete streets” efforts that make it easier to bicycle or walk to work.

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