air quality

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

If you want an update on air quality, look no further than your smartphone.

CREATE Lab, a program of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute, and Airviz, a CMU lab spinoff, have developed a smartphone app called SpeckSensor that gives users real-time access to Air Quality Index (AQI) numbers based on their location.

Environmental Protection Agency

  Residents driving past the Clack Health Complex in Lawrenceville might notice green, orange and red flags flying over the building -- a visual guide for those concerned about local air quality.  

The Allegheny County Health Department has adopted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s program of flying pennants to signify air quality levels. The color-coded banners went up last week.

Eric Schmuttenmaer / flickr

The Penn Environment Research and Policy Center named Allegheny County's ten most toxic industrial pollutants on Monday. The list ranks power facilities by how much pollution they produce, emphasizing that even though the air looks clean in the region, it may not be.

Flickr user Paul Sihvonen-Binder

NASA uses houseplants to help absorb dangerous pollutants on spaceships, and according to Matt Mehalik of Sustainable Pittsburgh, it’s an easy way for offices and other workplaces to keep their air clean as well.

Certain plants can absorb formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene and other chemicals that can contribute to a phenomenon known as “sick building syndrome.”

Hot, stagnant conditions with a high of 91 are expected to cause unhealthy ground-level ozone levels for the third consecutive day on Wednesday.

The Department of Environmental Protection and the Southwest PA Air Quality Partnership declared an "code orange" Air Quality Action Day on Monday and Tuesday. Ever worsening temperatures are forecasted Wednesday for parts of the Pittsburgh region.

The first code orange of 2015 occurred June 12.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is recognizing Air Quality Awareness Week by encouraging Pennsylvanians to take action to improve the state’s air quality.

State entities across the country and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have also been taking part in the awareness week, which ends May 1.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

Although its air quality is improving, Pittsburgh still ranks among the most polluted U.S. cities.

That’s according to the latest State of the Air report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association (ALA). According to the study, Pittsburgh improved in all measures, including particle and ozone pollution levels, but still fell below national air quality standards.


Whether you’re new to the Pittsburgh region or have lived here your whole life, you probably want to know what’s in the air you’re breathing and where it’s coming from.

This map from PublicSource identifies the facilities that federal standards say are the “major sources” of industrial air pollution in Allegheny County and the amount of pollutants they are allowed to release.


Beatrice Dias has asthma, and her three-year-old has had his own respiratory issues, so she installed a personal air monitoring device known as a Speck to see if the air in her home was contributing to their health problems.

“It was as simple as turning on the hood vent above the stove and realizing, ‘wait, the air quality is getting worse, what am I doing wrong? This was supposed to be good for it,’” she said. “But then I followed the trajectory of the air and realized the hood vent was just venting the air up as opposed out of the house.”

Revelations like this is why the Community Robotics Education and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab began selling Speck Monday.  The air quality monitor detects fine particulates in a room by using a fan to create a vacuum that sucks the matter into the sensor.

Researcher Maps Pittsburgh's Worst Air Pollution

Feb 10, 2015
Courtesy: Albert Presto

Pittsburgh is the 6th most offensive city in the country in terms of air pollution, according to a 2014 report from the American Lung Association.

Michael Bett is a Ben Avon Borough Councilman, and he wants to see the Shenango coke plant on Neville Island shut down, for good.

Bett, who is a co-founder of Allegheny Clean Air Now, made his case for shuttering the plant to the Allegheny County Board of Health meeting Wednesday, ahead of a presentation from the county’s air program manager about plans to improve air quality in 2015.

Breathe Cam / Breathe Project and CREATELab

Improving air quality continues to be a major challenge in the region, but Carnegie Mellon University's CREATE Lab has collaborated with the Breathe Project and introduced Breathe Cam.

It's designed to give area residents direct access to the world's most sophisticated technology for documenting visual pollution in the air they breathe. CMU Robotics professor Illah Nourbakhsh joins us to explain how it works. 

Pittsburgh’s air pollution has improved a great deal over the last few decades, but it still has a long way to go, and the city's air quality remains among the worst in the nation.

Illah Nourbakhsh shares a  haunting statistic about air pollution.

"Air pollution across the US is killing more people than prostate cancer, AIDS and breast cancer put together."

Online Tool Pinpoints Wood Burning Areas

Nov 2, 2014

A Pennsylvania-based clean air activist group has launched a new on-line tool it says will encourage discussion about open wood burning and wood smoke pollution.

The online application launched by The Clean Air Council, called I See Smoke, allows users to pinpoint the area where they are noticing wood smoke pollution on a map. This information is given to the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), which can use the data to resolve the issue.

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (and Lungs Too!)

Oct 7, 2014
Brett Ciccotelli / Flickr

They are invisible to the naked eye, but atmospheric particles are a critical factor in the climate equation and are responsible for many of the leading causes of death. We’ll talk about the dangers surrounding particulate pollution with Dr. Neil Donahue, professor of Chemical Engineering, Chemistry, and Engineering and Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University.

Air Quality Complications and Shenango Coke Plant

Oct 1, 2014
Jon Dawson / Flickr

The Shenango Coke Works on Neville Island has consistently violated local clean air regulations leading some citizens to ask why the Allegheny County Health Department doesn't shut the plant down.

We pose that question and more to Jim Thompson, Air Quality Program Manager for the Allegheny County Health Department. Hear from Bellevue resident Ken Holmes and other local residents who are concerned about air quality in the area.

Flickr user roy.luck

Three changes to Allegheny County’s regulations on air pollution will be introduced in County Council Tuesday evening.

According to Jim Thompson, deputy director for environmental health at the Allegheny County Health Department, the most significant proposed change would increase the fees paid by “major sources” of air pollution.

“Prior to this year, large sources were paying $57.50/ton of pollutant emitted,” Thompson said. “Starting this year, it will be $85/ton.”

Improving Pittsburgh's Air Quality

Jul 30, 2014
Dane Summerville / Flickr

Pittsburgh does not have the best air quality in the nation- far from it- but ask anyone who grew up in the city before the 1950’s and they’ll tell you that it used to be much worse.

Smog blanketed the city, leading to days in which the streetlights were kept on around the clock. The era of Pittsburgh being known as “hell with the lid off” ended when Mayor David Lawrence began enforcing the Smoke Control Ordinance in the late 1940s.

Doctors and scientists are being called upon to speak at the hearings being held this week in Pittsburgh over the EPA’s new Clean Power Plan.

To asses the new plan from the health angle were Dr. Alan Lockwood of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Kevin Stewart, director of Environmental Health American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.

Dr. Lockwood believed that the new regulations would be a huge step toward improving air quality.

Rewards Offered in Woodstove Roundup

Jul 7, 2014

Despite the popularity and appeal of summer bonfires, too much wood smoke can cause problems, according to Allegheny County Health Department. The smoke can contain toxins, act as an asthma trigger and prevent neighbors from opening windows to receive cool breezes.

That’s why the ACHD’s Air Quality Program offered rewards for older, uncertified wood furnaces and wood-fired boilers.

On May 17th, 62 woodstoves were collected in North Park, loaded into trucks, and recycled by Tube City IMS.

Flickr user Doug Becker

Julie Burgo was shocked when she was diagnosed with asthma in her 40s. But she had a hunch of what was causing the disorder: her neighbors’ wood burning fireplace.

When she approached her neighbors and told them that their habits were negatively affecting her health and the health of her mother, who was undergoing cancer treatment at the time, she said they retaliated with bigger and more frequent fires.

Environmental groups are applauding the Obama administration’s proposal to reduce emissions from power plants while many in the energy industry, namely in coal, are panning it.

“This is a ground-breaking moment for Pennsylvania, for the nation, for the globe,” said Christina Simeone, director of the PennFuture Energy Center.

The Pennsylvania Coal Alliance sees it differently.

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) is asking for public feedback on its 2014 Air Monitoring Network Review, an annual report listing where and how air pollution is being measured.

The 78-page document, required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, includes the location of monitoring stations, the process used to monitor the air and the pollutants detected at each location.

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.

Dane Summerville / Flickr

This past Saturday, Governor Corbett and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) published a draft plan intended to reduce dangerous smog pollution that puts nearly two-thirds of Pennsylvanians’ health at risk.

However, some feel the expected plan falls short, failing to set meaningful limits on smog-causing pollution from the state’s largest emitters – coal-fired power plants.

Kim Teplitzky, deputy press secretary of the Sierra Club said all of South Western PA has been designated unsafe in terms of air quality by the EPA. She compares the breathing in of smog pollution to a sunburn on your lungs. 

Woodstoves and boilers might have helped keep homes warm over the winter, but they also could have harmed the environment.

That’s why for the second year, the Allegheny County Health Department is collecting old woodstoves and outdoor wood-fired boilers that do not meet the current national emission standards.

Officials say air quality in the county around Pittsburgh met federal standards for fine soot pollution for the first time in 2013.

Allegheny County Health Director Dr. Karen Hacker says in a Friday statement that the news marks "a huge leap forward" in efforts to improve air quality. All eight monitoring sites in the county met standards for fine particulate pollution, which can come from coal-fired power plants, autos and trucks, and plants that produce coke for steel mills.

Is Pittsburgh an Icon of Healthy Living?

Dec 19, 2013
Flickr user Jason Pratt

Apparently living a Pittsburgh lifestyle is good for your health.

Well, not if you think that simply means eating pierogies and Primanti's everyday. 

The Huffington Post focused on nine lessons Pittsburgh offers on living well, as part of their Living Well, On Location series.

Tracking the "Secret" Life of Soot

Jul 24, 2013
Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

Breathing in the tiny particles emitted by automobile engines and power plants has been widely accepted by scientists and the public as being something to avoid.

But for a long time it was believed that these tiny particles, known as soot, were the sole toxic ingredient entering the lungs.  However, Reid Frazier of the Allegheny Front has discovered quite a different story. Scientists have found that soot leads a “secret life” after being released into the air, during which it picks up gases and other poisonous hitchhikers.  Before the soot actually enters the lungs these particles go through a unique evolution that involves a surprising combination of molecules.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is warning children, the elderly and those with respiratory issues to limit outdoor activities in the Pittsburgh area Thursday.

The DEP issued a code orange air pollution alert for five Pennsylvania regions.

The pollution comes from an overabundance of ground-level ozone, a fundamental element of smog. The ozone forms during hot, sunny days when pollution from cars, factories, homes and power plants mix with nitrogen oxides in the air, causing people to breathe in the volatile organic compounds.

The Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency are partnering on the so-called School Flag Program, which debuted last week at the Environmental Charter School at Frick Park.

“The School Flag Program was developed by the EPA, and it’s an engaging, hands-on way for students to inform their entire school and community about the region’s air quality and then to take necessary steps to minimize their exposure to high levels of air pollution,” said Karrie Kressler, of GASP.

Air quality in Pittsburgh is getting cleaner, but it continues to negatively affect the health and well-being of city residents.

The Breathe Project and Allegheny General Hospital convened a summit Tuesday — World Asthma Day — to examine the overall effects of poor air quality, from increased instances of asthmatic attacks, higher mortality rates and cancer.