The welcome news that the monitor for one of the worst air-pollution spots in southwestern Pennsylvania met the annual federal air-quality standard, the first for a critically important piece of our air quality problem–fine particulate matter–is a breath of fresh air.
It marks a big leap forward in the effort to move our region from the bottom to the top ranks nationally in air-quality ratings.
We at The Heinz Endowments, along with hundreds of other members of the Breathe Project Coalition intend to use this momentum to accelerate our effort to achieve the best possible air quality. We realize that despite this important gain, there is still a lot of work yet to do. The race to win consistently clean air is a marathon, not a sprint.
While this latest air-quality improvement in the Liberty Borough-Clairton area is good news, we owe it to the people of those communities and the rest of the region to meet the short-term (daily and eight-hour) compliance standard for small particulates and a range of other pollutants as well. The 2010 Allegheny County Health Department Air Quality Report, the most recent available, shows a total of 92 days in which one or more monitors recorded levels for various pollutants high enough that they failed to meet the federal standard.
For every day or portion of a day in which one of our communities registers poor air quality, there are increased health risks to the most vulnerable residents – the very young and the very old. And all of us are at increased risk of developing serious health problems such as heart and respiratory diseases, or aggravating conditions such as asthma.
One of the most thorough analyses of our region’s air quality, conducted by the national Clean Air Task Force and published last year, tells us that we have the power to make our air among the cleanest in the country by addressing local sources of pollution. This is great news for the region, since people here have a long history of taking whatever bold steps are required to move forward in the face of both adversity and opportunity.
We in the Pittsburgh region also have a reputation for never settling for “good enough,” especially when it comes to such important quality-of-life measures as a healthy environment and an economy that is thriving because the region is a sought-after place to live and work. Our strong competitive instinct to be the best will serve us well in the race to achieve clean air, since much of our recent improvement has registered just over the line from unacceptable quality.
In the 1940s, Pittsburghers banded together to clear the air of visible air pollution, accepting a package of reforms that challenged nearly every household and business to switch from dirty coal as a fuel source. That coalition succeeded in clearing Pittsburgh’s air and its national reputation. Today, a new coalition takes heart in that historic achievement and our latest improvements, and we rededicate ourselves to reaching the day when clean air across the region will be too commonplace to be newsworthy.