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Allegheny County Health Department Puts Mon Valley On Air Pollution Watch

Mark Dixon
The Clairton Coke Works in Clairton, Pa.

The Allegheny County Health Department issued an air pollution watch for the Mon Valley on Wednesday morning. Air quality readings at the Liberty Monitor showed increased pollution levels starting Tuesday evening. The county is working with US Steel to identify what caused the shift.

The region’s levels are expected to exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s 24-hour standard for fine particulate matter pollution, which can cause health problems like difficulty breathing and decreased lung function.

Matt Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Project, said this is just the latest in a pattern of poor air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“Unfortunately, our air in Allegheny County, particularly in the Mon Valley, has been ranked as being in the 10 worst air sheds in the entire United states nine times since the beginning of spring, March 21.”

The problem is not isolated to the Mon Valley.

“Pollution does move around,” Mehalik said. “It settles in over the city and affects residents in the most densely populated neighborhoods in the region.”

The health department recommends young children, elderly people, and those with respiratory problems limit their outdoor activities while air quality is poor. But Zachary Barber, a clean air advocate for Penn Environment, said more will have to be done to improve air quality in the region.

“Staying inside is one of the ways we can protect ourselves a little bit, but even that’s not perfect. And so it is, you know, a little bit ridiculous that we would expect people across the region to have to you know, further sacrifice to protect their health.”

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Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at