PITTSBURGH, PA — The American Lung Association’s “State of the Air 2015” report released April 29 finds the Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton, PA-OH-WV metropolitan area remained on all three of the report’s “Most Polluted” metro areas lists—one of only seven metro areas so named in the United States. Even so, just as it did in last year’s report, the 3-state, 12-county Pittsburgh metro area enjoyed its best rank-determining results for two measures of fine particulate air pollution since the association first issued its annual pollution report in 2000.
Nevertheless, the metro area ranked as 10th-most polluted in the nation for short-term (daily) fine particle pollution, 9th-worst for the year-round measure of this pollutant, and 21st smoggiest for ground level ozone. Only 7 of more than 240 metro areas in the country were ranked among the worst 25 for each of all three measures of air pollution in this year’s report. And only two of those, the Pittsburgh and New York City metro areas, were outside California.
The 2015 report, based on data for the three-year period of 2011-2013, showed improvements for the area in both year-round and daily particle pollution, in keeping with a trend seen across the nation of lower particle pollution levels. Of the worst 25 metro areas for annual particle pollution, the Pittsburgh area was one of six with the lowest levels ever that still failed to meet the air quality standard. Of the worst 25 for daily particle pollution, only four had reductions from the previous report, and of those, the Pittsburgh metro area was the only city to post the fewest number of unhealthy days in its report history.
Particle pollution levels can spike dangerously for hours to weeks on end (short-term) or remain at unhealthy levels on average every day (year-round). Particle pollution can penetrate deep into the lungs and even into the bloodstream, leading to premature deaths, asthma attacks and heart attacks, as well as lung cancer.
The Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton area also experienced modest reductions in the number of unhealthy days of high ozone (smog), and although its 21st-place rank remained unchanged from last year’s report, it was one of 13 among the worst 25 metro areas that showed improvement.
Ozone is the most widespread air pollutant, created by the reaction of sunlight on emissions from vehicles, industry, power plants and other sources. When ozone is inhaled, it irritates the lungs, like a bad sunburn. It can cause health problems that are immediate and some that can appear days later. Ozone can cause wheezing, coughing, asthma attacks and premature death.
Compared with last year’s “State of the Air” report, values for all pollutants in all ten monitored counties in the metro area improved or stayed the same. Cleaner diesel engines comprise a larger portion of the on-road fleet, and power plants and industrial operations have replaced or eliminated older, more polluting equipment. These changes, locally and upwind, have resulted in less air pollution in recent years.
Nationwide, more than 4 in 10 Americans – nearly 138.5 million people – live in counties where ozone or particle pollution levels make the air unhealthy to breathe, according to “State of the Air 2015.” The 16th annual national report card, which looks at air pollution data collected from 2011-2013, shows that improvement in the nation’s air quality was mixed, with many cities experiencing strong improvements, while others suffered increased episodes of unhealthy air, and a few even marked their worst number of unhealthy days.
“Pittsburgh can certainly be proud of the progress we’ve made in cleaning up our air since the first ‘State of the Air’ report 16 years ago. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done to make our air healthy for all Pennsylvanians to breathe,” said Deborah Brown, President and CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.
“We can thank cleaner diesel fleets and cleaner power plants for these significant air pollution reductions. However, the persistent problem of unhealthy days of high ozone and particle pollution continues to be a struggle for those who live, work, and visit the metro area, especially for those with lung disease, like asthma or COPD,” said Brown. “Reducing pollution will only become more challenging because warmer temperatures increase the risk for ozone and particle pollution, and make cleaning up the air harder in the future. We need stronger air quality standards to limit pollution and continued cleanup of the current sources of pollution throughout the Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton metropolitan area to protect the health of our citizens.”
“State of the Air 2015” finds that ozone grades were mixed in the area, but with no grade better than a “C.” Six of nine counties monitored had fewer days with unhealthful ozone levels, and three earned grades one step better than in last year’s report:
· Jefferson County, OH, remained unchanged with its weighted average of 2.3 unhealthful days for a “D;”
· Allegheny County, PA, posting a modest improvement to 12.5 days from 14.8 days with unhealthful levels of ozone, earning an “F;”
· Armstrong County, PA, also was unchanged with an “F” for its 3.3 days;
· Beaver County, PA, reported 3.0 days, improving slightly from an “F” to a “D;”
· Indiana County, PA, improved to 6 days from 7.7 days, but still earned an “F;”
· Lawrence County, PA, earned a “D” with the same average of 2.3 days;
· Washington County, PA, had a “D” with 2.7 days;
· Westmoreland County, PA, reported 3.0 days, improving slightly from an “F” to a “D;” and
· Hancock County, WV, went from 3.0 days to 2.0 days, exchanging a “D” for a “C.”
Similarly, “State of the Air 2015” finds that improvements in short-term particle pollution results in five of the area’s eight counties with monitors resulted in four grades being changed:
· Jefferson County, OH, again earned a “B” with a weighted average of 0.7 unhealthy air days;
· Allegheny County, PA, cut last year’s record low in these reports of 19.2 days nearly in half, dropping to 10 days with unhealthful levels of fine particle pollution, but still earned an “F;”
· Armstrong County and Washington County, PA, and Brooke County, WV, each posted an average of 0.3 days, and each improved to a “B” from a “C”;
· Beaver County, PA, came in again with a “B” for its weighted average of 0.7 days;
· Westmoreland County, PA, jumped from last year’s “F” grade to a “C” with 1.7 days; and
· Hancock County, WV, again scored an ‘A’ with no days above the standard.
“State of the Air 2015” finds that there was improvement in long-term particle pollution in all of the monitored counties. Three counties in the metro area improved to “Pass” from “Fail.” All units are given in micrograms per cubic meter, measured with respect to the national standard of 12.0:
· Jefferson County, OH, improved to a passing grade, posting an average of 11.6;
· Allegheny County, PA, improved to its best annual level yet, 13.4 from 14.8 in the 2014 report; although it still received a failing grade, its rank improved from tied for 8th worst county in the nation in last year’s report to 20th worst;
· Armstrong County, PA, improved to 10.8 from its11.7 in last year’s debut;
· Beaver County, PA, had its second passing grade in a row, improving slightly to 11.6;
· Washington County, PA, passed, going from 11.1 to 11.0;
· Westmoreland County, PA, with its jump from 12.6 to 11.1, improved to its first passing grade under the 12.0 standard;
· Brooke County, WV, did likewise, going from 12.7 to 11.6; and
· Hancock County, WV, passed again, dropping from 11.3 to 10.5.
“We know that the Clean Air Act works because we’ve seen Pittsburgh’s air quality improve over the past 16 years and we’ve seen the health benefits that have come with cleaning up the air,” said Kevin Stewart, Director of Environmental Health at the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic. “EPA must move forward to fully implement the Clean Air Act for all pollutants that threaten public health, including finalizing a strong Clean Power Plan to limit carbon pollution from power plants and stronger ozone air quality standards. Congress must also ensure that the provisions under the Clean Air Act are protected, implemented and enforced. The EPA and every state must have adequate funding to monitor and protect our citizens from air pollution and new threats caused by increased temperatures.”
More Safeguards Needed to Protect Health
The American Lung Association calls for several steps to safeguard the air everyone breathes:
· Strengthen the outdated ozone standards. The EPA must adopt an up-to-date ozone limit that follows the current health science and the law to protect human health. Strong standards will drive much needed cleanup of ozone pollution across the nation.
· Adopt a strong final Clean Power Plan. The EPA needs to issue tough final requirements to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.
· Protect the Clean Air Act. Congress needs to ensure that the protections under the Clean Air Act remain effective and enforced. States should not be allowed to “opt out” of Clean Air Act protections.
· Fund the work to provide healthy air. Congress needs to adequately fund the work of the EPA and the states to monitor and protect the nation from air pollution.
To see how your community ranks in “State of the Air 2015,” to learn how to protect yourself and your family from air pollution, and to join the fight for healthy air, visit: www.StateOfTheAir.org.
The American Lung Association “State of the Air 2015” report uses the most recent quality-assured air pollution data, collected by federal, state and local governments and tribes in 2011, 2012, and 2013. These data come from official monitors for the two most widespread types of pollution, ozone and particle pollution. The report grades counties, ranking cities and counties based on scores calculated by average number of unhealthy days (for ozone and for short-term particle pollution) and by annual averages (for year-round particle pollution).