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Environment & Energy

State DEP Encourages Pennsylvanians To Help Improve Air Quality

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is recognizing Air Quality Awareness Week by encouraging Pennsylvanians to take action to improve the state’s air quality.

State entities across the country and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have also been taking part in the awareness week, which ends May 1.

According to DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman, Pennsylvania has significantly improved its historically poor air quality, but there is still more work to be done. Air quality is especially bad in Pittsburgh, which the American Lung Association recently ranked among the worst cities in the country in terms of air pollution. 

“It’s a time for Pennsylvanian’s to renew their commitment to protecting air quality and also learn how air quality can directly impact their health and the environment around them,” Witman said.

The week also marks the beginning of the DEP’s 2015 ozone forecasting season, when the department tries to predict the amount of ground level ozone that will be present in the air. According to the EPA, ground level ozone is a mix of nitrogen and other compounds that comes from motor vehicle exhaust and industrial emissions. It can make breathing more difficult and trigger asthma attacks.

According to Witman, air quality has shown long-term improvements in Pennsylvania, especially in the smaller and smaller amounts of pollution emitted by power plants. Between 2008 and 2013, sulfur dioxide emissions from power plants dropped by 70 percent, while nitrogen oxides decreased 35 percent and particulate matter decreased 50 percent.

Pennsylvanians can contribute to cleaner air by riding bikes instead of driving cars, limiting their use of gasoline-powered lawnmowers and using less electricity, Witman said.

“Whenever we can conserve electricity, we’re reducing the amount of fuels that are being used to generate it,” Witman said.

Witman also suggested investing in “cleaner cars.”

“And when I say cleaner, I’m not talking about the interior or the exterior,” Witman said. “We’re talking about cleaner-burning, hybrids, clean diesels and electric cars, things of that nature.”

The DEP is taking other steps to reduce air pollution, including lowering volatile organic compound (VOC) emission industrial limits. The DEP will soon finalize its Reasonably Available Control Technology standards for industrial sites, which will further lower nitrogen oxides and VOC emissions.