The Environmental Protection Agency recently designated Allegheny County as out of compliance with federal air quality standards for fine particulate matter, a type of air pollution known to cause premature death. The EPA’s detailed analysis shows that multiple local sources contribute to the county’s harmful levels of air quality.
We can do better. We need to do better.
Almost every other county – or 95 percent of the United States – already complies with the federal standards, set in 2012. And our country’s standards lag far behind those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the standards of one of our closest neighbors, Canada.
(NOTE: Blue counties – including Allegheny County – are those NOT in attainment. Source: EPA 2014)
Fine particulate matter kills tens of thousands of Americans each year. But it’s worth noting that solutions to this public health problem are well-understood and achievable. Also, for every dollar spent to reduce air pollution sources, many more dollars are saved by avoiding heart attacks, asthma and lost workdays and schooldays.
Since up to 66 percent of Allegheny County’s air pollution comes from sources within the county and Pennsylvania, the Breathe Project’s mission is to promote a collective understanding and vision that it is vitally important for all us to do more to improve our region’s air quality.
We need to do better, and we can do better.
Here are five ways our business, civic and community leaders can work together to reduce air pollution, and in so doing commit our region to having healthy air that is safe for all of us to breathe.
(1) Every reasonable step should be taken to ensure the largest local industrial air pollution sources are subject to stringent emissions controls and are not in violation of their permits. “Pay to pollute” is not a viable way to regulate facilities with violations.
(2) A comprehensive plan to reduce diesel emissions should be developed and various strategies should be employed to decrease their contribution to the problem. These efforts should include idling law enforcement, adoption of clean construction policies and retrofit/replacement projects. We should emulate some of the institutions in Pittsburgh that already have taken the lead to accomplish these goals.
(3) Mass transit, bike lanes and carpooling should continue to be incentivized.
(4) Laws on wood burning should be strengthened and enforced. There is no reason why entire portions of neighborhoods should be smoked out by a handful of wood burners whose emissions infiltrate into others’ homes and make yards virtually uninhabitable.
(5) Inventories should be conducted in the neighborhoods, schools and parks where we and our children live, work and play to assess their air pollution burden and contributing factors. With this information, steps should be taken to reduce sources within their control and to demand that regulators work harder and faster to clean up those sources outside of residents’ control.
We can act now to clean up our air. Let’s do it!