On Friday, The PediaBlog spotlighted an Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, written by Pittsburgh doctors Deborah Gentile, Keith Somers, and Jonathan Spahr, which focused on the region’s improving, yet still dirty, air.  Most days, the air quality in the region is deemed “satisfactory,” which is not the same as “good”:

Often our air quality is even worse. Our region violated federal health standards for either ozone or fine particulate matter nearly 10 percent of the time — 35 days — in 2012. On these days, we are warned that the air is unhealthy, especially for children, people with heart and lung disease, older adults and those who are active outdoors.

Perhaps these statistics don’t seem so terrible when compared to the dark, smoky days of our industrial past. Indeed, Pittsburgh has undergone a dramatic transformation since James Parton in 1866 called the city “Hell with the lid taken off.”

But a closer look at our air quality and what it means for our health reveals a very different, and alarming, narrative.


Don Hopey does look closer at our air quality — and our health:

Because of toxic air pollution, Allegheny County residents have twice the cancer risk of those living in surrounding counties, according to a report released Thursday by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities.

And in hot spots within Allegheny County, the cancer risk is up to 20 times higher.

The Pittsburgh Regional Environmental Threats Analysis report, funded by The Heinz Endowments, links the higher cancer rates to a broad class of hazardous air pollutants from industry, energy production and diesel vehicles.


Hopey drills down:

The report notes that Allegheny County ranks in the top 2 percent of counties in the U.S. for cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants.

The Pitt study is the last of three commissioned by The Heinz Endowments — the first two focused on airborne particulates and ozone — and the health impact findings support those of the Post-Gazette’s “Mapping Mortality” project, published in December 2010.

That project found that there were 14,636 more deaths in a 14-county Western Pennsylvania area from 2000 through 2008 than national mortality rates predicted, including 600 additional lung cancer deaths. Communities downwind from many pollution sources showed higher mortality rates for respiratory, heart disease and lung cancer.

The Pitt report showed the biggest air toxics emissions affecting public health in the region are diesel particulate matter, formaldehyde, benzene and coke oven gas emissions, which is based on the latest U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Air Toxics Assessment data and local air quality monitoring information.


This is unfortunate news for the Pittsburgh region, which takes pride in how much cleaner — and greener — it has become.  These new studies show that in Pittsburgh’s post-industrial age, there is still work that needs to be done.  Considering this area is at the epicenter of the Marcellus Shale natural gas play, that work will be very difficult indeed.