Hidden Dangers in Our Air

Cheryl Stephens Access to Health + Wellness, Advocacy

Pittsburgh make not be the dirty industrial city it once was, but air quality is some of the worst in the nation. Pittsburgh Today explains some of the science behind that claim. While not as visible as black clouds of smoke, fine air-borne particulates called ground-level ozone and PM2.5 pose significant health threats to anyone breathing the air in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Ground-level ozone and PM2.5 can travel long distances by the wind. Therefore, you do not need to geographically be near their original sources in order for the pollutants to feel the effects.


Ground-level ozone (smog) is a well-known and common pollutant in urban areas due to the vast amount of vehicles and manufacturing plants which produce exhaustive chemical fumes into the atmosphere. Exposure to ground-level ozone can lead to health problems ranging from development of asthma to decrease in lung function and other respiratory diseases.


PM2.5 can slip past the body’s defense system of the mucous membrane where it travels through the lung and into the blood stream, causing issues for other organs. It can cause profound acute and long-term harm resulting in asthma, cancers, heart disease, and even premature death. These particles are lightweight and are normally removed from the air via rainfall. However, long days in the summer without rain can result in an increased accumulation of PM2.5


The high concentrations of PM2.5 travel from the US Steel Clairton plant and are at the highest levels we have seen in decades. Currently, Allegheny County is the only country within the Pittsburgh Metropolitan Statistical Area that is not at the standard level of PM2.5. On the other hand, all seven of the region’s counties fail on ground level ozone. 


Read the full story about Ground level ozone and PM2.5 from Pittsburgh Today here.