There is a lot to love about Pittsburgh: top-rated universities, world-class health care, abundant cultural and natural amenities, and winning sports teams. Unfortunately, air quality is not something Pittsburghers love or brag about.
The Pittsburgh region ranks in the top 10 worst regions in the nation for particle pollution. These particles cause heart and lung disease, asthma, adverse birth outcomes, cancer, and premature death. Our region’s high asthma rates and elevated cancer risk due to air pollution negatively impacts our health and productivity. The serious and frequent malodors we live with disrupt our sleep and spoil our quality of life.
Every Pittsburgher has the right to breathe healthy air.
Our poor air quality is a significant public health issue. Unfortunately, it isn’t being treated as such by regulators or decision makers. We have nearly 30 major sources (and dozens of smaller sources) of air pollution in Allegheny County, where Pittsburgh is situated. These include coke-making facilities, coal-fired power plants, steel foundries, chemical manufacturers and more. Approximately one-third of these sources are running with expired operating permits. Without current permits, it is extremely difficult to know if these sources are in compliance with air pollution laws.
It’s much easier to see if a local restaurant was issued health code violations than to determine when a steel foundry was last inspected and what that inspection found. Typically, enforcement of air pollution laws only makes the news when something truly egregious happens. That news is often disappointing, since companies are usually issued fines equivalent to slaps on the wrist.
We are not meeting federal standards for fine particulate matter, ozone, or sulfur dioxide, and there have been persistent violations of a hydrogen sulfide state standard at one of the County’s monitors. Two-thirds of the days each year have periods when our air quality is deemed not good, based on these federal standards. When we do have an air quality action day, like we did earlier this week, residents are urged not to mow their lawns, to take a bus instead of using a personal automobile and to reduce outdoor exercise. These recommendations are good, but what is industry doing to lessen their much larger contribution to our air pollution problem?
Air quality conditions here are affecting people’s quality of life, making people sick, and shortening lives. It’s not enough to simply work towards attaining the federal air quality standards. A new study from The New England Journal of Medicine reinforced that even pollution levels below federal standards are dangerous.
Every Pittsburgher has the right to breathe healthy air. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently upheld a broad interpretation of Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania State Constitution, which states that Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air. Like every city Pittsburgh aspires to be the best.
Best foodie city, best sports fans, best hospitals, best….
We can’t be our best when we have some of the worst air quality. Let’s attack our air pollution problem like we would any other public health threat.