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Mon Valley air was the healthiest it’s ever been in 2020; region still receives an ‘F’ grade

The new American Lung Association report doesn’t take into account the dramatically improved air quality the Pittsburgh region experienced during the pandemic.

by Oliver Morrison

Despite recording its healthiest air quality ever, air near the Clairton Coke Works remains unhealthy, according to the latest American Lung Association [ALA] report. 

Allegheny County is one of only 13 counties nationwide that received an “F” grade for all three types of air pollution the group monitors for its annual air quality report: ozone and short- and long-term particulate matter.

But the ALA’s report, released Wednesday, is based on data from 2017 to 2019 and doesn’t take into account the record improvements in air quality across the county last year.

So is the air in Allegheny County unhealthy to breathe? 

The ALA’s answer to that question diverges this year from the answer you would get from the Environmental Protection Agency’s [EPA]. For the first time this year, Allegheny County’s air quality was in compliance with federal air quality standards at all of its sites. According to the EPA, which looks at air quality between 2018 and 2020, the county’s air quality was already healthy outside of the Mon Valley.

The ALA uses a single monitor in the Mon Valley to determine grades for the entire region because that’s where the air quality in the county is the worst.

The EPA standards aren’t protective of public health, said Kevin Stewart, the ALA’s director of environmental health. There were still 21 days where the air was considered unhealthy between 2017 and 2019, according to EPA data. For people with health problems, “one bad air day could be one bad air day too many,” Stewart said.

Jim Kelly, the deputy director of environmental health for the Allegheny County Health Department, said he is aware that the EPA’s current standards won’t protect everyone’s health and could be made more stringent soon. The health department has a number of initiatives underway to improve the local air quality, he said. 

U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

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Mon Valley air was the healthiest it’s ever been in 2020; region still receives an ‘F’ grade

 

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