Unhealthy air

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An asthmatic child is the canary in the cage when it comes to air pollution. Just ask the doctors who help alleviate their struggle to breathe. On days designated as “yellow,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that air quality is not good. Even worse, on “orange days” the air quality is poor enough that it may be unhealthy for sensitive groups, like children who may be playing outside or the elderly. The full story is to be found in “Pittsburgh’s Air Is Still Plenty Dirty” (PG Forum section, Nov. 17, 2013) by Drs. Deborah Gentile, Keith Somers and Jonathan Spahr.

These depressing facts are only partially offset by a recent report that Allegheny County came into compliance with the federal fine particle standards in 2013. Lung problems aside, this fine dust is a known cause of heart attacks, irregular heart rhythms and even heart failure.

Allegheny County had 15 orange days and more than 180 yellow ones in 2013. In short, half the time, local air quality is sufficiently problematic that the most movable of us may think twice about staying in town or accepting a job offer here.

Most of these bad days are caused by fine particles in the air. These specks of dust are too small to see on the windowsill or on your shirt collar. They can go straight into the bloodstream.

So what to do? We didn’t cause this problem alone; some of our air pollution is imported (and plenty is exported). Nevertheless, there is a lot more we can do to put unhealthy air quality days behind us.

Squirrel Hill

The writer is a board member for the Group Against Smog and Pollution and a former member of the Allegheny County Air Pollution Advisory Committee.

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