On Dec. 18, EPA designated all of Allegheny County as being in non-attainment for the annual fine particulate standard (PM2.5) of 12 micrograms/m3. The standard was tightened to this level in 2012. These fine particulates are microscopic and are linked to negative health outcomes such as strokes, heart attacks, and even premature death.
Areas must show three years of data below this number to be in attainment, and Allegheny County did not. Regions in non-attainment must devise plans to show EPA how they plan to reduce air pollution to achieve the standard. Here, the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) is responsible for creating this plan.
You can learn more about non-attainment and see a map of non-attainment areas here: http://www.epa.gov/pmdesignations/2012standards/regs.htm
Significantly, EPA has designated the entire county as one whole non-attainment area. Previously, EPA had separated the Liberty-Clairton area from the rest of the county, due to the significant air pollution created by the Clairton Coke Works.
This action means that EPA recognizes that air pollution sources throughout the county are responsible for our poor air quality, not just one facility. In fact, 10 of the 11 air quality monitors that measure PM2.5 in and just outside of Allegheny County are ranked in the worst third of all national monitors, when looking at 2011-2013 data. EPA explains their reasoning to include the whole county on page 10 in the “Responses to Significant Comments document” found here: http://www.epa.gov/pmdesignations/2012standards/final/20141217rtc.pdf
Sources of air pollution in our county are varied, including industrial sources such as the Shenango Coke Works; diesel pollution from trucks, trains, and construction equipment; wood smoke from open burning, wood-fired boilers, and indoor fireplaces; and many more.
Thus our solution to this air pollution problem must address all of these sectors–we all have work to do to achieve better air quality our citizens deserve. Remember to call or email the Allegheny County Health Department when you smell foul odors or see smoke crossing property lines. They can be reached at 412-687-2243 or at http://www.achd.net/contactAQcomplaint.html.