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North Hills

Millvale considers taking steps to improve air quality

| Sunday, Nov. 20, 2016, 9:00 p.m.

The air in Millvale is better than it once was, but according to a recent air quality study there still is work to be done.

Millvale sustainability coordinator Zaheen Hussain and representatives from evolveEA, Christine Mondor and Anna Rosenblum, presented results of an air quality survey and study on Nov. 16 at the Millvale Community Center. About 60 people attended the meeting.

“We know that our air quality is better than it used to be, but we do know that it's not a great air quality situation we have now,” Mondor said, adding that Pittsburgh still ranks among the worst in air quality among U.S. cities. “Some of you maybe sense this. You can smell something when you walk out the door in the morning.”

EvolveEA is the sustainable architecture and consulting firm that has been working with Millvale to implement its Ecodistrict Pivot Plan. Air quality is one of the three focuses of the second iteration of the Ecodistrict Pivot Plan.

The goal is for Millvale to be a clean air community where people can breathe easy indoors and out, Mondor said.

Using several different monitors and sensors, researchers took measurements of particles, carbon monoxide, ozone, nitrogen- and sulfur-based pollution and radon throughout town.

A survey also was sent to residents, and received about 49 responses, Rosenblum said. When asked if air quality affects you, most respondents said sometimes it smells bad outside; their health or a family member's health was affected; it affected how long windows were kept open and that they noticed the air looks hazy or smoggy sometimes, Rosenblum said.

However, air quality did not affect any major decisions residents made throughout the day, according to the responses.

“Millvalians see poor air quality as an inconvenience rather than an impairment,” Rosenblum said.

Speck sensors, which monitor particles in the air, were placed at the library, borough building, on North Avenue and in the upper part of town on Forest Street.

Particle counts seemed to spike at night and were lower during the day and all the sensors trended together, Hussain said. The particle levels for sensors placed in other towns around Pittsburgh showed the same trends throughout the day.

Monitors looking at carbon monoxide found readings were highest in the valley, close to major roads such as Route 28. Levels of radon, measured in the basement of the library, were found to be lower during the summer and higher in the winter.

Hussain said they will continue to take findings from the monitors and analyze the results. They are going to look at the trends in pollution to see if they can be correlated with traffic patterns, emissions from nearby industry or if they can draw any other conclusions. A full report with recommendations will be released in mid-December, he said.

“Particles can be good or bad,” Hussain said. “As we dive into the data that we're starting to get back, I think we'll have a better idea.”

Residents can do things like rent particle sensors form the library, measure for radon in their homes, avoid burning garbage, wood and yard clippings, weatherize their homes, change the furnace filter regularly, take alternative transportation to work and write letters to local representatives to advocate for clean air, officials said.

Rachel Farkas is a Tribune-Review contributor.

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