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GASP to Board of Health: Prioritize Public Health During Bad-Air Events; Share Real-Time Conditions

The Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) was among those who addressed the Allegheny County Board of Health Wednesday when our executive director demanded improved public communications from the Allegheny County Health Department during prolonged periods of unhealthy air quality like our region experienced when wildfire smoke impacted our region.

Here's what he said:

Good afternoon. I’m Patrick Campbell, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (or GASP), a nonprofit working to improve our air quality since 1969.

Waves of Canadian wildfire smoke wafted into our region again since the last time this board convened. The resulting pollution dimmed our skies and fouled our air. At the pollution’s peak, the Air Quality Index or AQI in most parts of the county was well into the Purple, very unhealthy range.

GASP followed conditions closely and interacted with myriad residents who shared their fears about potential health impacts from the wildfire smoke and who were seeking clear, actionable information to help them mitigate exposure to this pollution. For so many, it was the worst air quality they had experienced in their lifetime.

In public messaging, the PA Department of Health recommended those impacted by wildfire smoke utilize EPA’s AirNow app and its color-coded AQI for real-time air quality conditions.

So did the EPA.

And the DEP.

And the National Weather Service.

And the PA Emergency Management Agency.

And local news stations.

Allegheny County Health Department, meanwhile, pushed the use of its own air quality dashboard - one that displays air quality data averaged over 24 hours. Meaning users needed to access raw data that is not presented in the AQI format for shorter-term considerations like, “Should I let my children play outside this afternoon.”

You don’t need to be a mathematician to realize a current or real-time PM2.5 level outside is not the average of the previous 24 hours. To put it another way, if you wanted to know whether to take an umbrella with you to work, you wouldn’t look at the average rainfall over the last 24 hours - you’d want to know if precipitation is imminent.

That’s why GASP repeatedly called on the department to promote - it is a superior option to ACHD assigning the public math homework before they go outside.

Now we’re calling on this Board to take responsibility for public health. You must ensure that next time, residents in your charge can count on their health officials to provide the information and resources they need to protect themselves and their families.

Thank you.

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