By David Templeton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
February 11, 2015
When it comes to the particulate matter, PM2.5, Pittsburgh is the sixth most polluted city in the United States and the most polluted city east of California, the American Lung Association says.
But the big question has been how these pollution levels of particulate matter, or PM2.5, affect specific municipalities in Allegheny County and city neighborhoods. Albert A. Presto, a research professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies, finally has some answers.
Maps he’s generated after monitoring air pollution levels at 70 key sites countywide for two years reveal levels of black carbon, which is a component of PM2.5; sulfur dioxide (SOX), nitric oxide (NOX), carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, benzene and toluene, among others. Ozone levels were measured but not mapped.
Mr. Presto, who holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, will present his air-quality maps during a free public forum 7 p.m. tonight at the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, 605 Morewood Ave., Shadyside.
Deborah Gentile, an asthma and allergy physician at Allegheny General Hospital; Ted Popovich of Allegheny County Clean Air Now; and Stephen Riccardi, a field associate with Penn Environment, also will make presentations during the forum.
The black-carbon map, for example, shows high pollution levels concentrated in industrial sites and along heavily traveled roadways. But one conclusion is clear: Pittsburgh’s three rivers are pollution highways.
“You see heavy loading of pollution in valleys,” said Philip Johnson, director of the Heinz Endowments’ Breathe Project. The Endowments funded Mr. Presto’s research. “We all worry about black carbon because it is a significant contributor to climate change and health problems with associations to many adverse health outcomes from birth to death, including reproductive outcomes, heart attacks and stroke, and exasperation of [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease] and asthma.”
Pollution concentrations in river valleys, he said, should raise public concern about parks, bicycle trails and recreational facilities along the rivers, he said.
“We are encouraging people to go outside, to recreate, play and enjoy parks,” Mr. Johnson said. “But what can the city say about itself if it has the highest levels of black carbon in the most intimate areas of human experience? You have pollution trapped in areas where people live, work and play.”
In coming phases of pollution mapping, the project will identify specific sources of pollution and human exposure levels to show “where it is, where it is coming from, and whom it is affecting,” Mr. Johnson said.
Already, Mr. Presto said, the maps he generated represent the most detailed measurement of pollution by location, noting that other cities also are producing similar pollution maps. Until now, pollution levels largely were limited to county averages or the eight sites where the Allegheny County Health Department has placed pollution monitors.
To generate the maps, Mr. Presto said he identified 70 sites, both hill and dale, but also including busy highways with pollution largely linked to diesel fuel emissions and such industrial sites as the Cheswick power plant in Springdale, U.S. Steel Corp.’s Clairton Coke Works and the Shenago coke works on Neville Island.
The Heidelberg-Carnegie area showed unexpectedly higher pollution levels likely due to their valley locations, proximity to Interstate 79 and the Parkway West, and smaller industrial plants that are major sources of pollution, he said.
An area along the East Busway in the Oakland-Squirrel Hill area also had high pollution levels.
“People still think that industry is big steel mills,“ Mr. Presto said. ”But when you have close proximity to small facilities you can be exposed to elevated concentrations of pollution and associated health risks.”
David Templeton: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1578