Allegheny County Adopts Air Quality Flag Program

Nov 3, 2015

Color-coded air quality flags range from green to maroon (not pictured) to indicate the severity of local pollutants each day.
Credit Environmental Protection Agency

  Residents driving past the Clack Health Complex in Lawrenceville might notice green, orange and red flags flying over the building -- a visual guide for those concerned about local air quality.  

The Allegheny County Health Department has adopted the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s program of flying pennants to signify air quality levels. The color-coded banners went up last week.

“[On days with poorer air quality] respiratory irritants may be impactful to the health of individuals who are prone to having asthma … particularly children,”  Jane Clougherty, University of Pittsburgh associate professor of environmental health. “The reason for the alerts is to help people alter their activities to reduce their exposure to outdoor air pollution.”

Most dangerous days occur during the summer due to higher ozone levels, but can occur any time during the year, Clougherty said.

Colors range from green to maroon to indicate the severity of local air quality — green for “good” quality, and ascending to yellow, orange, red, purple and maroon for "hazardous." Days with an orange flag or above are considered “Air Quality Action Days,” Clougherty said. 

Residents One way of doing this includes driving less and biking or using public transit more, as they are “things that all of us can do,” Clougherty said.

The public can also sign up at the Allegheny County website to receive mobile notifications of poor air quality days.

She said she hopes the flags will engage the community, raising questions and promoting environmental education like similar programs long-since adopted at 20 local schools, including the Pittsburgh Gifted Center, Canon-McMillan High School and the Cecil Elementary School. 

Most have been participating in the flag program for nearly a year, according to ACHD Air Quality Program Manager Jayme Graham. The Clack Health Complex is the first non-school building to join the initiative.