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Air quality prompts 'Code Red' warning for Liberty-Clairton

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Gene J. Puskar
In this May 2, 2019, file photo a worker arrives for his shift at the U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works in Clairton, Pa.

Air quality for the Liberty-Clairton area reached Code Red Tuesday morning — a level the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection deems to be unhealthy for all people.

Levels of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) pollution spiked around 4 a.m. When air quality reaches the Code Red level, officials recommend that young children, elderly people and people with respiratory problems avoid prolonged time outdoors.

Everyone else should also limit their time outside, according to the DEP. The episode lasted about two hours and ended before 6 a.m.

The flare-up Tuesday followed three consecutive days of DEP-issued Code Orange alerts warning of unhealthy pollution levels for sensitive groups of people. Those levels were related to temperature inversions and strong winds, officials said.

“Weather played a significant role in reducing expected dispersion of air pollution,” which resulted in the spike Tuesday morning, Allegheny County Health Department spokesman Chris Togneri said in a statement.

“The health department continues to monitor conditions in the Mon Valley and issue watches and warnings as required,” he said. “However, if the air quality team determines that any exceedances occurred, enforcement actions will follow.”

A DEP analysis projected the air quality in the Liberty-Clairton area would stay below the Code Orange threshold through Tuesday afternoon, though fine particulate matter concentrations are expected to be high on Wednesday morning. Air quality could improve to the “good range” starting on Thursday.