Particulate Pollution Down, Smog Up in Pittsburgh

Apr 30, 2014

A new report shows that Pittsburgh’s air quality has improved – but it still received failing grades.

That’s according to the American Lung Association’s 15th annual “State of the Air” report measuring the amount of pollution throughout the nation.  The study found that 147.6 million Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of either ozone or particle pollution.

Janice Nolen, the ALA’s assistant vice president for national policy, said Pittsburgh is seeing similar results as the entire nation.

“One of the great things is that Pittsburgh reached its best ever year-round levels of particle pollution” Nolen said. “And that’s the kind of pollutants that you’re breathing day-in and day-out that can lodge deep in the lung and can also go into other parts of the body and cause things like early death, heart attack, stroke, asthma attacks and other serious harms including lung cancer.”

However, she said that the city is still ranked the sixth most polluted nationwide for year-round particle pollution.  Six of the ten most polluted cities for particle pollution--soot--are in California including Fresno, the worst, and Los Angeles, tied for third worst.

The 2014 report also showed that Pittsburgh had more ozone (smog) pollution than it did in 2013.

With 14.8 days logged with unhealthy levels of ozone, Allegheny County earned an “F” with its worse annual ozone result since 2005-2007.

“Just like the rest of the nation, we are seeing that ozone levels went up in Pittsburgh,” Nolen said. “It’s now ranked 21st most polluted for ozone across the nation, and that’s not surprising, it was 24th last year, but the ozone ranking got worse partially because the ozone actually got worse, and we saw that in the nation as a whole.”

Nolen said that this could be the result of a hotter summer in 2012 – and she is concerned that climate change will make their task more difficult.

“That means that we’ve got to do something about not only the sources that contribute to ozone, but also clean up the sources of carbon pollution from power plants,” Nolen said. “So that we can fight back against that heat that [the] change in climate is going to increase.”

Though the results from 2013 to 2014 do not show any significant changes, Nolen said Allegheny County has made substantial improvement since the ALA first began publishing its report 15 years ago.

She said the first report showed that the county had an average of 64 days in which the short-term particle pollution spiked – but 19.2 days in the 2014 report.

Nolen attributed this to the Environmental Protection Agency taking steps to clean up diesel, gasoline and coal-fired powered plants.