GASP Press Release April 29, 2009: Fact And Fiction: Pittsburgh And The American Lung Association State Of The Air Report



Joe Osborne
Group Against Smog and Pollution
work: 412-325-7382
cell: 617-909-8365


Today the American Lung Association (ALA) released its 2009 State of the Air report. Once again, the Pittsburgh metropolitan area was ranked worst in the nation for short term fine particle pollution (PM 2.5). In past years the ALA’s findings have attracted significant attention in the Pittsburgh region, and several misconceptions about the nature of the ALA’s findings have become widely accepted. GASP has created this fact sheet in an effort to correct some of the more common misconceptions and provide a concise summary of the ALA’s findings as they apply to the Pittsburgh region.


1. The Pittsburgh-New Castle metropolitan statistical area (MSA) ranks worst in the nation for short term particle pollution.

2. The Pittsburgh-New Castle MSA ranks second worst in the nation for annual particle pollution.

3. Allegheny County rankings remain the same (i.e. worst for short term particle pollution, second worst for annual particle pollution) when areas are ranked on the county, rather than MSA, level.


Misconception #1: “The study is based on ALA’s own air monitoring data.”

Incorrect. The air pollution monitoring data used in the report is the official data from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Air Quality System, which is based on thousands of EPA-approved monitors located throughout the country.

Misconception #2: “The ALA arrives at the poor ranking for Pittsburgh by looking at a single local monitor, which is located right next to a polluting coke plant.”

Incorrect. Individuals who make this statement are referring to U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, a major emitter of particle pollution located in Clairton, PA. While it is true that most of our region’s highest short-term PM 2.5 readings occurred at the Liberty, PA monitor site located roughly two miles from Clairton Coke Works, the ALA report looks at all monitor sites in the EPA Air Quality System and uses the value from whichever monitor recorded the highest value in the area on that day. During the 2005-2007 period examined in the current ALA report, values from eight to twelve PM 2.5 monitor sites in Allegheny County were examined each day and the highest value was selected. This same selection methodology is employed in each of the 527 counties studied.

Misconception #3: “Our region’s poor air quality is limited to the Liberty-Clairton area.”

Incorrect. Not only does this attitude unfairly dismiss the over 20,000 individuals who live, work, and breathe in the Liberty-Clairton area, but it fails to appreciate that the PM 2.5 problem is regionwide. During 2007, the most recent year for which data was available for the study, every Allegheny County PM 2.5 monitor measured at least one day where PM 2.5 concentrations exceeded EPA’s short-term health-based standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. During this same year, half of the county PM2.5 monitors (four out of eight) exceeded the annual average standard of 15 micrograms per cubic meter.

Further, because air pollutants tend to travel with the wind, pollution produced locally rarely remains a strictly local problem. In fact a 2009 CMU study examining PM 2.5 in Schenley Park in Pittsburgh’s east end found that PM 2.5 concentrations are higher and exceedance days more likely when the wind blows from the southeast, where Clairton is located.

If the Liberty monitor were removed entirely from the ALA calculation, the Pittsburgh metropolitan statistical area would rank 13th worst in the nation for annual particle pollution out of 221 MSAs. Allegheny County would become the 19th worst county in the U.S. out of the 527 graded counties.


1. The Allegheny County Health Department’s (ACHD) Air Quality Program should continue to aggressively work on the Liberty-Clairton State Implementation Plan (SIP), which details the region’s strategy for reaching attainment of the fine particulate standard.

2. The SIP should meet required deadlines and not further delay clean-up. All major local industries that emit significant quantities of fine particulates should commit to reductions needed to protect Mon Valley


3. The ACHD, County, and City officials should develop plans to retrofit and/or replace older, polluting diesel vehicles with advanced diesel emission reduction technology.

4. School bus owners in Allegheny County should take advantage of available funding to retrofit older school buses. Alleghey County diesel school bus retrofit program Pittsburgh healthy school bus fund

5. Citizens should not idle their personal vehicles and should report any excessive idling of diesel vehicles to the Allegheny County Health Department (412-687-2243) or their municipal police.

6. Violations of the Continuous Opacity Monitoring regulations should be strictly enforced.



The Group Against Smog and Pollution, Inc. (GASP) is a non-profit citizens’ group working for a healthy, sustainable environment. Founded in 1969, GASP has served as a watchdog, educator, litigator, and policy-maker on many environmental issues, with a focus on air quality in Southwestern Pennsylvania.