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Experts say Pittsburgh’s air continues to improve

The air in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area is improving, according to the American Lung Association’s 2015 national “State of the Air” report card.

But it’s not getting better fast enough to keep the region from ranking in the bottom 25 of 240 metropolitan areas for the categories measured — daily and annual soot pollution and smog.

Joining Pittsburgh in that losing trifecta are New York City and five metropolitan areas in California.

The lung association report, based on data for the three-year period 2011 through 2013, found the Pittsburgh region reduced its daily and annual airborne particle pollution but still ranked 10th and ninth in the nation for those measures.

The Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton metropolitan area, which includes nine counties in southwestern Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio and northern West Virginia, ranked 21st-worst in the nation for smog. It was the same ranking the region achieved last year even though the number of smoggy days declined.

“Pittsburgh can certainly be proud of the progress we’ve made in cleaning up our air since the first ‘State of the Air’ report 16 years ago,” said Deborah Brown, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “However, there’s still a lot of work to be done to make our air healthy for all Pennsylvanians to breathe.

“We can thank cleaner diesel fleets and cleaner power plants for these significant air pollution reductions,” she said. “However, the persistent problem of unhealthy days of high ozone and particle pollution continues to be a struggle for those who live, work, and visit the metro area, especially for those with lung disease, like asthma or COPD.”

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Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, which monitors air pollution and regulates emissions in the county, declined to comment on the report Tuesday, saying she hadn’t seen it.

Six of the nine counties in the Tri-State area had fewer unhealthy ozone days, and three — Beaver, Westmoreland and Hancock County, W.Va. — earned better grades than they did in last year’s report, which covered the years 2010 through 2012. But Allegheny, Armstrong and Indiana counties again received “F” grades despite showing modest improvement.

Allegheny County also received an “F” grade on daily soot emissions despite reducing the number of unhealthy fine particulate days from 19.2 to 10. The county improved its annual fine particle numbers, to 13.4 from 14.8 micrograms per cubic meter, still higher than the national standard of 12. Its national ranking in the annual fine particles category improved from eighth-worst to 20th-worst.

Nationwide, according to the lung association, 138.5 million people — more than 40 percent of the population — live in counties where the air is unhealthy because of ozone or airborne particle levels.

Ground-level ozone, the most widespread air pollutant and the principal component of unhealthy smog, is formed when sunlight cooks nitrogen oxide emissions from motor vehicles, industrial facilities and power plants. Microscopic airborne particulates, from many of the same sources, can be breathed deep into the lungs. Breathing the pollutants can cause lung irritation, reduced lung function, heart attacks, increased hospital stays, stroke and premature death.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last year proposed stronger health-based controls for smog that it says would cost power plants and industry up to $15 billion a year but save more than twice that in health care costs. The agency is scheduled to issue the new standards by Oct. 1.


This article was written by Don Hopey from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.


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