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How poor air quality days can affect Pittsburghers

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

Residents of Liberty-Clairton awoke to unhealthy levels of pollution Monday morning. Throughout the morning and early afternoon, levels of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) pollution reached concentrations that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency deems unhealthy for all people.

The Allegheny County Health Department says the 24-hour average air quality index will stay in the moderate range, which is more common for the region. Air pollution has not exceeded federal standards, and local officials do not expect it to do so.

The U.S. air quality index, which the EPA uses to report air quality, measures PM 2.5 and other pollutants in a range from zero to 300. An “unhealthy” level of concern carries a value of 151 to 200. “Hazardous” is the highest level of concern for values of 301 and higher.

But Patrick Campbell, the executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, said the air pollution could still harm residents.

“Even short-term exposure to levels of pollution like particulate matter 2.5 that we’re seeing elevations of today is very poor for human health,” Campbell said. “There’s no good level of exposure.”

Christine Graziano, a Pittsburgh resident and president of a local environmental nonprofit, said that sometimes, the air pollution odors that reach her Squirrel Hill home are “unbearable.”

“How it impacts us is it decreases how often we go outside, and it causes a lot of worry,” she said.

When air quality reaches moderate levels, people who are “extremely sensitive” to pollution, including young children, elderly people and people with respiratory problems, are encouraged to reduce their time spent outside. When air pollution reaches high levels, everyone is encouraged to shorten their time outside, and more sensitive people are advised to avoid strenuous activities. Pollution levels fell throughout the afternoon as wind speeds increased.

The Health Department is monitoring the situation to identify the cause.

Residents can report air quality complaintshere.

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