Point Park University's Student-Run Newspaper

Point Park Globe

Point Park University's Student-Run Newspaper

Point Park Globe

Point Park University's Student-Run Newspaper

Point Park Globe

Air quality in Pittsburgh continues to affect residents

Despite putting its history as the “city of smoke” behind it, Pittsburgh’s “toxic 10” are putting residents at high risk of deadly health issues.

The American Lung Association gave Pittsburgh a failing grade for particulate matter in ozone pollution in 2021.

Poor air quality in Pittsburgh can be attributed to what is known as the “toxic ten.” The toxic 10 are ten of Allegheny county’s most polluting industrial facilities.

According to information found on PennEnvironment’s website, last updated in April of 2023, 10 industrial facilities in Allegheny County emitted a total of 1.4 million pounds of toxic air pollution in 2021.

Out of the ten facilities listed on the PennEnvironment website, the number one contributor to air pollution is the USS-Clairton plant located in Clairton, PA.

USS-Clairton was responsible for 60% of all toxic industrial emissions released to air in Allegheny County in 2021.

 Zachary Barber, a clean air advocate at PennEnvironment, said, “We rank in the worst two percent of counties for cancer risk from industrial air emissions and a lot of that is driven by these large toxic air emitters.”

“Local research has shown that children living near Pittsburgh’s largest industrial polluters suffer from asthma at about two to three times the national average. Since asthma is the leading cause of chronic school absence, this means that the air quality is holding back our kid’s ability to learn and prepare for a better future,” said Barber.

According to the College Simply website, 39 percent of Point Park University’s population are out of state students. That means about 1,286 students had to adjust to Pittsburgh’s poor air quality.

Freshman musical theater major Dakota Ruby Lieberman-Dugan said, “I’m sick all the time. I have respiratory issues. I cough a lot.”

There are federal regulations in place that are intended to prevent the levels of toxic air emissions that Pittsburgh produces.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency website, the Clean Air Act is a federal law introduced in 1970 that regulates the amount of hazardous air pollutants that are introduced into the air.

Debra Smit, director of communications at the Breathe Project, said, “When you build a large polluting plant, you have to get a title five permit that basically restricts you to the amount of pollution you can put out.”

Despite the Clean Air Act being a federal law punishable by fines, Pittsburgh plants have been able to bypass restrictions

“The Allegheny county health department hasn’t taken action for many years because they are a local health department and they were pretty much under the thumb of industry,” said Smit.

“[The Clean Air Act] is law but industries can always ignore it and what happens then is you have to file a lawsuit against them,” said Smit.

According to Barber, legal action against polluting industrial facilities is taken by political organizations like PennEnvironment.

Despite living in unlawful conditions, Pittsburgh residents can take action against polluting industrial facilities by downloading the Smell Pittsburgh app. Created by students at Carnegie Mellon using data from the Allegheny County Health Department, the app allows users to see the varying air quality in Pittsburgh as well as make their own posts on the app indicating where toxic smells are found.

“Everyone has the right to breathe clean air. We should be able to trust that when we breathe it’s making us healthier and sadly that’s not a reality for too many Pittsburghers,” said Barber.

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