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Pittsburgh area soot linked to 1,300 deaths

| Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011

Nearly 1,300 premature deaths could be prevented annually in the Pittsburgh area with stronger federal pollution controls on soot, according to a report to be released today by a team of health and environmental groups.

The Pittsburgh region ranked sixth nationally in the number of premature deaths that could be avoided with stronger rules. Soot — technically called fine particulate matter air pollution — can cause deadly heart problems, strokes and respiratory ailments, especially for people suffering from lung and heart disease, according to the report by the American Lung Association, Clean Air Task Force and Earthjustice.

The report comes as federal regulators are reviewing rules on soot and several other types of air pollution, drawing resistance from Gov. Tom Corbett and other Republican governors. The governors have sent the Environmental Protection Agency several letters asking for delays in implementing any changes. They say putting off more stringent rules will save jobs, but they haven't yet heard a response, spokesmen for the governors said.

"The 'Sick of Soot' report reminds us how much room the Pittsburgh region has for improvement," said Rachel Filippini, executive director of Group Against Smog and Pollution in Garfield. "The tighter EPA makes their ... standards, the more we will benefit."

The Corbett administration wants scientific and fact-based standards and will keep pushing the state toward compliance with current standards, Corbett spokesman Eric Shirk said.

The report's environmental analyst, Donald McCubbin, took air quality data from federal monitors and used computer models to assess the public health and economic impacts. By saving lives and stopping health problems, stronger pollution limits on soot would also save $281 billion in health spending every year, according to his calculations.

Society might benefit more if it spent money on providing better health-care access, safer neighborhoods and more jobs rather than increasingly tightening environmental regulations, said Doug Biden, president of the Harrisburg-based industry group Electric Power Generation Association.

"If the facts warrant tightening the particulate standard, then it will likely be tightened. But we need to take the emotion and the hyperbole out of the decision-making process," he said. "In short, the cost-benefit analyses often employed in these kinds of press releases are decidedly incomplete and misleading."

Earthjustice, the American Lung Association and National Parks Conservation Association last month sent a letter notifying the EPA of their intent to sue. The agency hasn't completed a mandatory five-year review of soot standards last revised in 2006, and the letter gives them 60 days to address that, according to the groups' announcement from Oct. 18.

Additional Information:

At a glance

A report by the American Lung Association, Clean Air Task Force and Earthjustice estimates the number of premature deaths annually that could be prevented if the EPA were to impose long-delayed updates in air pollution controls.

Rank ... Metro area ... Annual premature deaths

1. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA -- 4,230

2. New York-Newark-Edison, NY-NJ-PA -- 3,290

3. Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI -- 2,240

4. Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD -- 1,550

5. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA -- 1,360

6. Pittsburgh -- 1,270

7. Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI -- 970

8. Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA -- 930

9. Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH -- 780

10. Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN -- 650

Source: American Lung Association, Clean Air Task Force and Earthjustice

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