Pittsburgh region gets F grade for air quality | TribLIVE.com

Pittsburgh region gets F grade for air quality

Emily Balser
Clairton Coke Works on Jan. 15, 2019.

Pittsburgh’s air quality remains among the worst in the country and shows no signs of improvement, according to the American Lung Association’s annual air quality report.

The report said the Pittsburgh region’s air quality ranks seventh worst in the country for year-round particle pollution, up from eighth worst in 2018, and 10th in the nation for cities affected by short-term particle pollution. The short-term particle ranking remained steady from 2018.

In addition to the city rankings, Allegheny County ranks 10th in the nation for counties most polluted by year-round particle pollution. That’s up from 12th worst in the 2018 report.

The Pittsburgh area also experienced more unhealthy days of high ozone in this year’s report, earning the area an F grade.

The 2019 report found that both daily and year-round particle pollution levels were significantly higher than in the 2018 report for Pittsburgh.

Fine particle pollution is made of soot or tiny particles that come from coal-fired power plants, industrial sources, diesel emissions, wildfires and wood-burning devices.

Pittsburgh went against the nationwide trend of improving particle pollution. Many cities saw the best progress in that area, the report said.

However, Pittsburgh was on par with many cities for worsening ozone pollution, which the report said worsened in most cities in large part because of the record-breaking global heat experienced in the three years from climate change.

Nonprofit group Clean Air Council responded to the report in a press release.

“The data in today’s report reflect not only poor air quality, but worsening air quality,” said Joseph Otis Minott, executive director and chief counsel for the group. “Particularly alarming is the problem of fine particulates in Allegheny County. It is unacceptable that the Allegheny County Health Department has failed to propose an attainment demonstration that was due several years ago, which would contain a control strategy to address this problem.”

Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said in a statement the report is a reminder that air quality continues to be one of the “most pressing” public health challenges in the area.

“While we have ramped up our enforcement efforts over the past two years, doing more than our agency has ever done, we must continue to be aggressive and proactive and hold polluters accountable,” she said in a statement.

Hacker said the department is working to address issues with the Liberty air quality monitor at South Allegheny Middle/Senior High School in McKeesport, which is not meeting Environmental Protection Act standards for sulfur dioxide or for particulate matter that is 2.5 microns or less.

“The Liberty monitor is the only monitor in the county that is out of attainment with EPA standards for S02 and PM2.5, and addressing this issue is a top priority,” Hacker said. “We are currently operating under a new SO2 state implementation plan, and shortly we will be submitting to the EPA our state implementation plan to address failure to meet the federal standards for PM 2.5. We are also working on proposals for new coke oven rules to deal with fugitive emissions.”

Hacker said in the statement it will take more than just the Health Department to improve the air quality and called on industry leaders to comply with standards.

“We all want and deserve clean air, and we will continue to use all of our tools to improve the air that we all breathe. But we cannot do this alone, and we call upon industry leaders, such as U.S. Steel, to address all noncompliance issues and improve our air quality,” she said.

The Health Department has fined U.S. Steel more than $2 million for continued emissions problems at the Clairton Coke Works facility during the third and fourth quarters of 2018 and implemented new enforcement requirements for the facility in the aftermath of a fire that released unusually high levels of sulfur dioxide throughout the Mon Valley.

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