Up to standard: Allegheny County reaches air particulate goals

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The long, costly journey to clean up Pittsburgh’s air continues, but right now a little celebration is in order.

Last week the Allegheny County Health Department reported that, for the first time since monitoring began in 1999, each of the county’s eight air testing sites met federal standards in 2013 in the category of fine particulate pollution. Such pollution can have harmful effects on the cardiovascular system and is linked to respiratory diseases.

Even the monitor in Liberty, which typically registers the highest pollution readings in the county because of emissions from U.S. Steel’s Clairton coke works and the topography of the Monongahela River valley, had average readings for the year that passed federal muster.

This doesn’t mean the region’s dirty air challenges are over. Local monitors still don’t meet federal standards for sulfur dioxide or ozone, and greater improvement will require a full-court press from industries, power plants, motorists and energy consumers.

For now, though, the players who have put forth the sustained effort to clean up the region’s skies — particularly U.S. Steel, which spent $500 million on a new battery of coke ovens — can relish this milestone. Then they must continue the work that will demonstrate 2013 was not a flash in the pan, but greater progress toward meeting all clean air standards.

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