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Health

Pittsburgh air quality among poorest, study says

| Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, 1:24 p.m.
The U.S. Steel Edgar Thomson Works plant in Braddock.
Stephanie Strasburg | Trib Total Media
The U.S. Steel Edgar Thomson Works plant in Braddock.

Pittsburgh and the entire state of Pennsylvania have some of the worst outdoor air in the country and quality would improve if electrical energy consumption was reduced, according to a study by a Washington D.C. nonprofit.

The American Council for Energy Efficient Economy completed the study in conjunction with Physicians for Social Responsibility. The findings said a 15 percent reduction in annual electric consumption across the country would save six lives a day and curtail nearly 30,000 asthma episodes a year.

“The avoided health harms in that one-year period would average more than $70 per person in cities: the cost of avoided harms would be highest in Pittsburgh, where they would be more than $200 per person on average,” the study said. Rounding out the top five are Buffalo, Louisville, Cleveland and Cincinnati.

“Our ranking of states based on the dollar value of avoided health harms shows that Pennsylvania would realize the greatest benefits followed by New York and Ohio, Illinois, Texas, Michigan, Florida and Indiana, Tennessee and North Carolina.”

Sara Hayes, ACEEE program manager for health and environment who co-authored the study, said if energy consumption was reduced by 15 percent, it would be enough to pay the annual health insurance premiums for 3.6 million families.

“The reduction would result in a 14 percent decrease in carbon dioxide,” she said.

ACEEE said people are harmed even if they can't see a power plant. Also, a recent report from the American Lung Association found four out of every 10 Americans live in a county with unhealthy pollution levels. The report assigned letter grades for metropolitan areas based on air quality and pollution exposure. Pittsburgh, Baltimore and New York City all received an F. By comparison, Indianapolis received a C.

“Air pollution from power plants contributes to four of the leading causes of death in the United States: cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, heart disease and stroke,” said Barbara Gottleib, director for environment and health at Physicians for Social Responsibility, in a statement. “We can use energy efficiency to save lives and help slow global warming.”

Suzanne Elliott is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at selliott@tribweb.com, 412-871-2346 or via Twitter @41Suzanne.

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