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Pittsburgh Air Is Getting Cleaner, But It's Still Dirty

Pittsburgh’s air has gotten cleaner, but the city still ranks as one of the most polluted in the country.

That's according to the American Lung Association’s annual State of the Air report released Wednesday. According to the report, Pittsburgh ranks eighth in year-round particle pollution, the mix of tiny solid and liquid particles in the air. These particles can increase the risk of heart and lung disease and adverse birth outcomes.

Pittsburgh also ranks 24th in ozone pollution, which can reduce lung function and worsen asthma.

Kevin Stewart, the director of Environmental Health for the ALA, said southwestern counties such as Beaver, Armstrong and Washington have improved their air quality since last year’s study.

“At the same time, Allegheny County continues to get an 'F,' and one of the things we also observe is that although long term average fine particle pollution has improved, the standard by which that is measured has also become more stringent, so the area continues to get a grade of 'F' for that standard,” he said.

However, Allegheny County has the second largest population in Pennsylvania and has more industry than neighboring counties.

Even though it still ranks in the 25 most air-polluted cities, Pittsburgh has seen improvement. In the 2010 edition of the report, Pittsburgh ranked third in short term particle pollution and fifth in year-round. It was unranked for ozone pollution in 2010.

The 2013 study, which comprised air quality results from 2009-2011, also gave Allegheny County an "F" rating for both ozone pollution as well as particle pollution. The 2010 study also ranked Allegheny as the third worst county air-wise in the nation.

Though Pittsburgh continues to move away from its industrial past, Stewart said a proactive solution is needed.

“Every year we delay in improving the air quality is another year that people who experience health effects from that pollution are suffering,” he said. “Whether they’re having asthma attacks, whether they’re going to hospitals, the emergency department, or whether they’re dying.”

While individuals can minimize emissions by limiting vehicle idling, refraining from
burning wood and trash and unplugging electric devices when not in use, Stewart said improving car mileage and exhaust would be the best way to improve air quality.