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Town Hall Calls Attention To Pittsburgh Air Quality Problems

Clairton Coke Works
Reid R. Frazier
/
The Allegheny Front

Residents from Clairton, Braddock, and some Pittsburgh neighborhoods held a town hall on Wednesday to highlight the region’s poor air quality and advocate for changes to federal air quality standards.

“We need to do something about the quality of life that we have here in Clairton,” Johnie Perryman, a Clairton resident. “Our needs are not being met.”

Health experts at the meeting said negative effects of air pollution, like asthma and other respiratory problems, often have greater impacts on communities of color in Pittsburgh.

“That’s typically because they live closer to these sites of pollution,” said Dr. Deborah Gentile, the medical director of Community Partners in Asthma Care.

One one the most common types of air pollution in Allegheny County is particulate matter, which is often associated with asthma and other respiratory problems. Gentile and other air quality experts said current Environmental Protection Agency air quality regulations forparticulate matter (PM2.5), which is commonly created by industrial emissions, don’t adequately protect public health.

“Even a small decrease in exposure could save lives,” she said.

Under the existing EPA guidelines, the annual standard of particulate matter exposure is 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

Gentile said she hopes the EPA will lower the annual acceptable level of particulate matter to better align with recommendations from the World Health Organization and other countries, like Canada. Both limit particulate matter exposure to 10 micrograms per cubic meter of air.

The EPA is expected to revisit particulate matter standards in the coming years, before issuing a final rule in 2023.

Howard Rieger, a Squirrel Hill resident and co-organizer of the event, emphasized the importance of community participation when demanding air quality improvements in the region.

“We need those other forces on the ground talking about the need, making the case for what needs to be our future, creating a vision that’s different than what we created 100 years ago,” he said. “I think there’s plenty to be done here, and we need to raise our voices.”

The meeting marked the third time residents met to share their concerns about how air pollution is impacting people of color and vulnerable communities in Pittsburgh. Organizers plan to hold another town hall in September.

Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter 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 jzenkevich@wesa.fm.
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