Air Quality in the Pittsburgh Region – July 2019

Katie Phillips Access to Health + Wellness, Active + Engaged Residents, Advocacy

Air quality has been a major issue in the Pittsburgh region for decades. In the first half of the 20th century, coal and steel production caused visibly smoky and dirty air in Pittsburgh. While policies enacted over the past 75+ years have greatly improved the way our city looks, air pollution – though less visible – remains a significant issue.

The Pittsburgh area’s air quality is ranked the 7th worst in the country for year-round particle pollution and 28th worst for ozone pollution (American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report).

PUMP believes in clean air and water for all, because we know how important it is to our constituents and for the future of our region. Read on for an overview of what’s been happening and how you can protect yourself, take action, and improve our region’s air.

Recent Air Quality News

Air quality has become a hot topic issue in recent months, partially prompted by fires at Clairton Coke Works in December 2018. Clairton Coke Works and the Allegheny County Health Department received criticism from community members and advocacy groups for their slow response to the fires and the resulting increase in pollution. Another fire broke out at Clairton Coke Works in June 2019. The Allegheny County Health Department responded much more swiftly to this latest incident.

ACHD reached a draft settlement agreement for $2.7 million with U.S. Steel to address penalty appeals for air pollution violations from 2018-2019.

ACHD is seeking public comments on the draft agreement through July 31st, 2019:

  • Attend the public hearing on Tuesday, July 30 at the Clairton Municipal Building: information here.
  • Submit comments here.

Related News:

  • In late June, Councilperson Erika Strassburger hosted a listening session on air quality in City Council District 8 and the Pittsburgh region more broadly (The Pitt News)
  • Pittsburgh is estimated to rank 4th in air pollution related deaths in the U.S (Pittsburgh City Paper)
  • Pittsburgh region’s air quality gets a failing grade (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
  • Allegheny County Healthy Department launches air quality site so users can monitor air pollution in real time (Trib Live)
  • U.S. Steel responds to federal lawsuit filed by environmental groups (Pittsburgh Business Times)
Why does air quality matter?

Poor air quality is bad for the environment, and it can have serious effects on our health, especially for vulnerable populations, including children, the elderly, and people with certain health conditions. Athletes are also at a higher risk due to increased exposure to pollution when exercising outdoors. Air pollution is linked to higher rates of asthma, especially in children, as well as other diseases, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Air quality is also an equity issue. Air pollution disproportionately affects low income communities and communities of color. These communities often experience greater exposure to pollution sources because of where they live. Limited access to health care and economic opportunity also impact people’s susceptibility to air pollution.

In Clairton, 28% of residents lived in poverty and the median household income was $31,112 in 2017 (AP News). Other Mon Valley towns near Clairton have large minority populations and high poverty rates. Read about some of the high poverty municipalities in the Post-Gazette’s “Growing up through the cracks” series.

What can you do to protect yourself and promote better air quality?

Monitor local air quality through the Allegheny County Health Department’s new online tool.

Athletes United for Healthy Air – See tips on protecting yourself when exercising  and become an advocate for clean air through GASP’s campaign.

Smell PGH – Smell PGH crowdsources smell reports to track how pollutants travel through the air across Pittsburgh. You can download the app and report bad odors. All smell complaints will also be recieved by the Allegheny County Health Department to help them monitor air quality and identify pollution sources.

Get involved with some of the local organizations working to improve air quality and the environment:

Share your comments on the Allegheny County Health Department/U.S. Steel Settlement draft: