People living in a 10-county region of southwestern Pennsylvania have a significantly higher than acceptable risk of developing cancer due to exposure to toxic air pollution released by manufacturing processes, energy production and diesel combustion, according to a new report by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities.
The Pittsburgh Regional Environmental Threats Analysis Report—funded by The Heinz Endowments—analyzes publicly available data on hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), also known as air toxics. Air toxics include approximately 200 pollutants identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as respiratory, neurological and reproductive disorders. The report is the third in a series as part of a project examining major threats to human health and the environment in southwestern Pennsylvania.
“While the region as a whole experiences a constant burden of air toxics, the report found that people living in Allegheny County have a cancer risk more than twice—and in some cases 20 times—that of those living in surrounding rural areas,” said senior author James Fabisiak, associate professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “In fact, the county ranks in the top 2 percent of U.S. counties in terms of cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants.”
A group of Pittsburgh-area environmental groups is calling for rapid action from local health and air quality officials based on the findings of this report. They are asking the Allegheny County Health Department, City of Pittsburgh and other regional authorities to implement the following recommendations in light of report findings and share the resulting information with the community:
1) Implement and enforce Pittsburgh’s Clean Construction Law, which requires publicly funded development projects in the City of Pittsburgh to reduce diesel emissions from their project construction vehicles, and encourage eligible contractors working in the City of Pittsburgh to apply for the Small Construction Contractors Retrofit Program to assist them in paying for emission reduction technologies.
2) Enforce rigorous application of Allegheny County’s updated Air Toxics Guidelines to all permits for facilities connected to hydraulic fracturing.
3) Ensure the Allegheny County Health Department’s upcoming SO2 State Implementation Plan includes strong control measures for coke ovens.
4) Attend a special Sustainable Development Academy briefing program in mid 2014 for the region’s county executives, commissioners, and mayors of large municipal governments and of the highest cancer risk localities to inform public officials of the PRETA report’s findings that the region ranks in the highest percentiles for air quality cancer risk and that there are helpful recommendations for reducing these threats to public health.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Report – Allegheny County in Top 2 Percent in U.S. For Cancer Risks From Air Pollution
CBS Pittsburgh: New Study Shows Allegheny Co. Residents Have Higher Cancer Risk
Pittsburgh Business Times: Pittsburgh Region’s Air Pollution, Cancer Risk High
Allegheny Front: Study: Pittsburgh Air Among The Nation’s Worst
Trib Total Media (McKeesport Daily News): Allegheny County Dwellers Have Greater Risk of Cancer, Pitt Study Finds