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Allegheny County Health Department Provides BOH with Air Quality Update, Improvement Goals

While there were no action items on the agenda for Wednesday’s Allegheny County Board of Health meeting, members were treated to a lengthy update from health department Interim Director Patrick Dowd, who shared information on monitors on the move, data details related to the most recent rash of wildfire smoke, and goals for reducing both fine particle pollution and sulfur dioxide by 2027.

In his environmental health report, Dowd said:

  • The Air Quality Program’s permitting section continues to finalize the development of an online permitting portal, noting that residents should have access by the end of the year.

  • ACHD staff moved the Avalon air quality monitor a few hundred yards from the old location and is preparing to relocate the Lawrenceville monitor to Fulton Street.

  • The Air Quality Program has worked to reduce the amount of unpaid or overdue invoices from $113,624 to $9,267.

During an update on administrative matters, Dowd noted that the department is wrapping up the 2024 budgeting process. He said ACHD submitted nine new grant applications over the last three months, totaling $29 million with spending periods ranging from three to five years. It was unclear which programs would benefit from the grants if awarded.

He also said ACHD is moving multiple programs from the Clack campus in Lawrenceville to Fulton Street. It is also relocating current programs into revamped spaces in their current leased facilities. No further details we shared.

Dowd also provided an update regarding how the recent waves of Canadian wildfire smoke impacted our local air quality. Notably, he said AQI for PM2.5 peaked at 212 (which falls into the EPA’s purple, unhealthy range) at the Parkway East on June 29 - the highest ever recorded in Allegheny County. The former record? It occurred in 2003 when the AQI for PM2.5 hit 175.

Dowd also detailed how “ACHD kept residents apprised on changing air quality conditions and provided information on how they could remain healthy.” More on that from GASP tomorrow. Stay tuned.

After talking about how air quality has improved over the decades, he reiterated that despite that progress, there was still work to be done. And to that end, he outlined ACHD’s goals on the air quality front. Specifically, he said ACHD’s goal was to:

  • Reduce the annual average PM2.5 concentration by at least 12% (from 9.7 µg/ m³ in 2021 to 8.5 µg/m³ in 2027, on a countywide average basis)

  • Reduce the number of days per year when sulfur dioxide (SO2) exceeds an AQI of 50 (from 36 in 2021 to 26 in 2027)

He indicated that ACHD would also prioritize helping local communities “prepare to adapt to changes generated from climate change.”

Editor’s Note: You can view the slides presented at the meeting for yourself here.

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