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Pittsburgh Air Quality Improving, But...

At Firstside Park in Downtown, the clean air advocacy group PennEnvironment released a report showing that Pittsburgh is the 19th smoggiest large metropolitan area in the country. Matthew Ward, the Western Pennsylvania field associate for PennEnvironment, said the latest research found that Pittsburgh is improving, but not at a healthy enough rate.

"The problem is really a lot worse than the public thought," Ward said. "So what we want to drive home today is that people of Pittsburgh deserve to breathe clean air and for too many days, residents of Pittsburgh, children and seniors citizens, and all across the state are exposed to dangerous levels of smog pollution."

The report found that the air quality in the Pittsburgh area was too unhealthy to breathe 13 days last year, including one red alert day when someone without any health problems could still experience adverse effects.

Smog forms when pollution from vehicles, power plants, and industrial facilities mixes with sunlight. Warmer temperatures and extreme sunlight often lead to worse smog levels. According to Ward, the pollutant can cause asthma attacks and decreased respiratory functions, especially impacting children and the elderly.

Councilman Bill Peduto, sponsor of Pittsburgh's Clean Air Act, said the city will continue to make strides to improve air quality, but changes need to be made at all levels of government to see a difference. "When we get reports like this time and time again, deniability is not an action. Action is required from the federal level, but action is also required at the local [level]," Peduto said.

According to Ward, President Obama's administration said they would update the national smog standard from 2008, but have abandoned the effort and pushed back any changes until 2013. Ward said that he hopes that changes at the local level and eventual changes at the state and federal levels will be what it takes to lower the number of days it is unhealthy to breathe.

According to the report, Pittsburgh had one less smog day than New York City and Cincinnati in 2010 but had one more than Detroit and Dallas. In 2010, the smoggiest city in America was Riverside-San Bernardino, California, with 110 smog days. Los Angeles-Long Beach, Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia ranked second through fifth.

You can read the full report at the Environment America website.