A call for action is needed to improve Pittsburgh’s subpar air quality


Noah Wilbur | Opinions Editor

As a fourth-year college student living in Pittsburgh, I have become quite acquainted with the area and its innumerable qualities that serve as the foundation of such a bustling and energetic city.

From exploring the streets of South Side to cheering on Big Ben and the Steelers at Heinz Field, the Steel City has given me a home, away from home. Despite all the great memories accumulating over the course of four years, my time has also enabled me to observe the more unfavorable aspects of the region.

For example, even with stronger regulation and increased efforts to reduce its environmental footprint, the surrounding metropolitan area – including Pittsburgh – still consistently ranks as one of the worst in America for fine particle pollution in the air.

Although the oldest residents have seen the quality of air they breathe slowly improve since deindustrialization began, formidable air pollutants that are largely invisible continue to loom over homes, restaurants and businesses.

In fact, according to the American Lung Association’s most recent State of the Air report, the Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton tri-state metro area ranked eighth in the nation for year-round airborne particle pollution.

Of the 229 metropolises across the country, the region ranked 30th for days with elevated ozone levels. Allegheny County in particular received an F-rating for its annual High Ozone Days, Daily Particle Pollution and Annual Particle Pollution.

The source of this poor air quality is revealed with a quick glance in history to when Pittsburgh and its surrounding towns were at the center of the immense expansion of steel manufacturing in the U.S. during the 20th century.

The most significant consequence of subpar air quality is the influence it has on the development and advancement of harmful health side-effects. Higher asthma and lung cancer rates, reduced lung functionality and increases in mortality rates and hospital admissions are only a few of the many challenges inadequate air quality imposes on the community.

Aside from the multitude of health complications that arise, the adverse economic consequences that city officials and local entrepreneurs must face are also severe and widespread.

On one end of the spectrum, poor air quality leads to the sanction of stricter regulations on all businesses – even those contributing minimally to the issue – which creates additional costs. In turn, executives and managers are forced to lay off a great deal of their workforces in order to compensate for the increase in unexpected expenses.

The other end of the spectrum is that quality-of-life is negatively impacted as living conditions deteriorate and job security becomes nearly nonexistent, all while concern for one’s health emerges as the main concern.

The result? It is increasingly difficult to recruit new talent and thus drive economic growth as prospective employees and organizations are reluctant to move to cities and towns that offer minimal opportunities for personal and professional development.

Many strategies have been developed in recent years to reduce air pollution, such as efforts to introduce solar energy, the encouragement of public transportation and stricter regulations on the companies specifically escalating the environmental crisis.

The construction of city forests and the implementation of reflective surfaces on streets and surrounding buildings are lesser-known approaches that continue to gain traction as an effective method to improve air quality.

With Pittsburgh’s future success threatened by ever-increasing pollution, I call upon the city officials and community leaders of the Iron City to join together and focus their efforts on developing a strategy that takes advantage of new green technology in order to decrease the amount of harmful pollutants roaming through the air.