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Go outside and take a drag of the region's 'fresh' air

| Tuesday, May 8, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
Heat rising off downtown Pittsburgh causes the moon to shimmer as it sets behind the spires of PPG Place early Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.
Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Heat rising off downtown Pittsburgh causes the moon to shimmer as it sets behind the spires of PPG Place early Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.

Air quality in the region has improved steadily over the years and dramatically if you go back to the belching smokestacks of the 1960s.

But it seems there's still a way to go.

A new, free app, called “(Expletive)! I smoke” puts air quality in an interesting perspective.

It grabs the nearest publicly shared air-quality monitor data based on a device's GPS coordinates, then runs it through a formula developed by University of California-Berkeley scientists that compares the health impact of air pollution to that of smoking a cigarette.

On a recent day, breathing the air in Downtown Pittsburgh, according to the app, would have had the same effect on your health as smoking three-quarters of a cigarette.

Walking down the street in Greensburg that day was equivalent to smoking half a cigarette; and standing outside in North Braddock — overlooking U.S. Steel's Edgar Thompson Works and down the Mon Valley from the Clairton Coke Works — was like smoking a cigarette and a half.

For perspective, the average air quality in Beijing would be like smoking roughly four cigarettes a day. And on a bad day in China, the effect of air pollution is comparable to smoking three packs a day.

So, no question, it could be a lot worse.

Still, the American Lung Association says the Pittsburgh region, which also includes parts of Ohio and West Virginia, is the nation's 10th-worst for short-term particle pollution.

The Berkeley study examined the effects of the tiniest, most harmful airborne particles generated by sources such as diesel engines and industry.

Think about that the next time you step outside for a breath of fresh air. Or question whether more needs to be done to curtail airborne particulates.

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