top of page

Report: Hazardous Air Toxics Levels Raise Southwestern PA to Top of Nation’s Worst

For Immediate Release November 21, 2013

Media Contact: Tom Hoffman | Clean Water Action 412.765.3053 ext. 202 |


Regional coalition of nonprofits issue common-sense recommendations for region in light of report findings

PITTSBURGH, Pa.– The Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health recently released its Pittsburgh Regional Environmental Threats Analysis (PRETA), which seeks to educate about environmental quality and human health risks of significance to the southwestern Pennsylvania community.

Air toxics are the focus of the third edition, and major findings in the report conclude that residents of southwestern Pennsylvania, particularly those living in Allegheny County, have a significantly higher than acceptable risk of developing cancer due to exposure to air toxics. In fact, Allegheny County ranks 63rd out of 3,225 U.S. counties in terms of cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants, placing it in the top 2 percent nationally.

The highest overall rate of cancer risk in the region from total hazardous air pollutants is found in West Elizabeth where residents are 20 times more likely to develop cancer from that air pollution than those living in other areas surrounding Allegheny County.

A coalition of nonprofits in the region, including Clean Air Council, Clean Water Action, Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), PennFuture, Sustainable Pittsburgh and Women for a Healthy Environment, issued the following statements and recommendations in response to the report:

“Our region cannot afford to have its economic turnaround story tainted by the stigma of lingering air quality woes,” concluded Court Gould, executive director, Sustainable Pittsburgh. “We need to redouble efforts to educate, measure, and make changes to reduce cancer risks from air pollution,” continued Gould.

“While being in the top 2% of most things is impressive, unfortunately for residents of Pennsylvania’s second-most populous county, being in the top 2% for cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants is unacceptable and local and state officials must do more to protect citizens, ” explained Joe Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council.

“In the last few years, we have seen many reports like this one. A typical response from policymakers is to ignore the reports – or even worse – discredit them. We desperately need leaders who will not only acknowledge the problems but act on them,” said Tom Hoffman, western Pennsylvania director, Clean Water Action. “After visiting West Elizabeth on a recent trip and seeing firsthand the ugly and real health consequences of living in the highest cancer rate census tract, we can’t afford not to act.”

The coalition is asking the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), City of Pittsburgh, and other regional officials to implement the following recommendations in light of report findings and share the resulting information with the community:

  1. Implement and enforce Pittsburgh’s Clean Construction Law, which requires publicly-funded development projects in the City of Pittsburgh to reduce diesel emissions from their project’s construction vehicles, and encourage eligible contractors working in the City of Pittsburgh to apply for the Small Construction Contractors Retrofit Program to assist them in paying for emission-reduction technologies.

  2. Enforce rigorous application of Allegheny County’s updated Air Toxics Guidelines to all quality permits for facilities connected to hydraulic fracturing.

  3. Ensure the Allegheny County Health Department’s upcoming SO2 State Implementation Plan includes strong control measures for coke ovens.

  4. Attend a special Sustainable Development Academy briefing program in mid-2014 for the region’s County Executives, Commissioners, and Mayors of large municipal governments and of the highest cancer risk localities to inform public officials of the PRETA report’s findings that the region ranks in the highest percentiles for air quality cancer risk and that there are helpful recommendations for reducing these threats to public health.

“The PRETA report shows that a variety of hazardous air pollutants foul our region’s air, but diesel vehicle pollution stands out as an obvious target of high priority—especially for the city of Pittsburgh,” said Rachel Filippini, GASP’s executive director. “We have many tools to reduce diesel pollution, but some are unfortunately not being enforced.”

“Though our region has made great strides in improving air quality, we still have far to go,” said Tiffany Hickman, western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for PennFuture. “In addition to strong executive and regulatory leadership on the issue, we as individuals can help to keep the air we breathe cleaner by reducing our energy consumption and switching to a clean energy provider for the home and business.”

“We urge citizens to get involved with local environmental groups that are working to reduce exposure to these harmful air pollutants,” said Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, executive director, Women for a Healthy Environment. “The findings in the PRETA report present an opportunity for the citizens of southwestern Pennsylvania to raise their voice and advocate for change to improve our health and our region.”

Click here to read the full report.


bottom of page