Report: Pittsburgh Air Quality Is Improving, But Falls Below National Standards

Apr 29, 2015

Although its air quality is improving, Pittsburgh still ranks among the most polluted U.S. cities.

That’s according to the latest State of the Air report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association (ALA). According to the study, Pittsburgh improved in all measures, including particle and ozone pollution levels, but still fell below national air quality standards.

“It’s still not at the level it needs to be,” said Janice Nolen, vice president of national policy at the ALA. “It’s still higher than the official safe limit. And so, there’s still more work to be done, but it’s good progress.”

According to the annual report, Pittsburgh recorded its lowest short-term and year-round particle pollution levels since the ALA started its State of the Air study 16 years ago. Pittsburgh ranked 10th in short-term particle pollution and 9th in year-round particle pollution among the top 25 most polluted U.S. cities.

Of the 20 most year-round particle polluted cities, eight metropolitan areas can be found in Pennsylvania.

Allegheny County ranked 20th in short-term particle pollution, which are spikes of high-particle activity that can last hours or days,  and 11th in year-round particle pollution.

Nolen said particle pollution reduction should be a community effort.

“People can take action themselves by avoiding burning during high-pollution days,” she said. “They’re not burning wood or things like that that can add to spikes in pollution and making sure that they are supporting measures within the community to reduce pollution.”

The report also shows Pittsburgh had less ozone pollution, or smog, than it did in previous years, though its rank did improve as the 21st out of the 25 most ozone-polluted cities.

Allegheny County also recorded less ozone pollution, but still received an “F” on its report card. According to the study, the county saw an average of 12.5 high ozone days between 2011 and 2013 compared to 14.8 between 2010 and 2012.

Nolen said Pittsburgh and Allegheny County have made great strides to reduce ozone pollution, but more can always be done.

“There are things that are going to help with that immediately as we get cleaner gasoline coming in in a few years and cleaner vehicles,” Janice Nolen said. “But, we’ll need to do even more with reducing some of the emissions again from power plants that are a big source of the problem.”

At the end of 2013, FirstEnergy closed its 370-megawatt Mitchell Power Station in Washington County, which is included in the ALA’s measure of the Pittsburgh metropolitan area.

Nolen said the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed Clean Power Plan, which would put tighter regulations on power plant emissions, would drive down ozone and particle pollution.

While Pittsburgh is no longer the industrial powerhouse it used to be, Nolen said the city’s new economy still pollutes.

“The industry may be changing to something that doesn’t build as much industrial pollution into the air,” she said. “The electricity that the rest of us depend on comes from large sources that contribute a lot of pollution, and we’ve got to tackle those too.”