Pittsburgh region's air quality ranked subpar

Levels still lagging behind others despite gains

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Air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania is improving significantly, but not as fast as it is in many other parts of the nation, according to the latest American Lung Association annual report.

The Lung Association's State of the Air 2012 report, released this morning, again ranks the eight-county Pittsburgh-New Castle metropolitan area among the 25 most polluted regions in the U.S. for ozone and fine airborne particle pollution.

But the region's daily particle pollution levels for the three-years 2008 through 2010 improved enough to drop its ranking from third-worst last year to sixth-worst. Annual particle pollution levels in the region also declined, but because other metro areas registered bigger improvements, the Pittsburgh metro area is ranked sixth-worst this year. It ranked seventh last year.

Despite improvements in emissions of ozone and ozone producing pollution, the region's ranking also worsened from 24th worst to 20th.

Kevin Stewart, Lung Association Mid-Atlantic director of environmental health, said power plant controls, cleaner cars, diesel engine replacement upgrades and tighter solvent controls have improved air quality in metropolitan areas across the country, including Pittsburgh.

According to the Lung Association's 13th annual report, major reductions in ozone pollution were seen in 18 of the 25 most polluted cities in the U.S.

All but one Pittsburgh metro area county -- Westmoreland -- showed reductions in the number of bad air days because of ozone and daily airborne particle pollution, and Beaver County became the first to earn a "B" grade for daily fine particle pollution after reporting just one unhealthy air day for that pollutant over the three years covered by the report.

Guillermo Cole, an Allegheny County Health Department spokesman, said the report is another indication that the county is making strides toward meeting federal air quality standards.

"We know air quality was a lot better in 2011, and we are expecting further and continuing improvements as a result of work on coke batteries and ultra-low emission quench towers at the [U.S. Steel Corp.'s] Clairton Coke Works," Mr. Cole said.

The report shows that the nation is making steady progress in cutting dangerous pollution from the air under the Clean Air Act, said Deborah Brown, president and chief executive officer of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. While the reductions are notable, she said, "millions of people, including residents of the Pittsburgh metro area," are still breathing unhealthy levels of air pollution.

According to the Lung Association, 127 million, or 40 percent of the people in the U.S., live in areas where air pollution continues to threaten their health and put them at risk from elevated levels of asthma, heart attacks, strokes, emergency-room visits and premature death.

breaking - region - environment

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. First Published April 25, 2012 5:00 AM


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