Updated: Sep 14, 2022
By Arjun Narayan
North Allegheny High School Junior
As a teenager, I often wonder if I have the tools and experience to enact true change in our community. As the generation that will be most impacted by environmental issues in our cities, however, teenagers across the nation have a responsibility to take a stand against problems such as air pollution.
In a report published just a month ago, the American Lung Association found that Pittsburgh ranks among the top 10 worst cities in the nation for air quality. Allegheny County still attains an “F” grade for its air quality- for ozone, daily particulate matter levels, and long-term particulate levels – making it the only county outside of California to receive failing grades in all three categories. This is especially troubling as nearby counties such as Washington and Westmoreland have been given an “A” grade for their efforts to reduce air pollution.
Bad air quality puts citizens at increased risk for lung disease and heart ailments. Even more pressing is the potential correlation between chronic exposure to air pollution and poorer COVID-19 outcomes.
A recent Harvard study found that people that lived in areas with a high concentration of air pollution were 8 percent more likely to die from COVID-19. These statistics are alarming. Consequently, I sought out ways in which the city can take steps forward to improve air quality.
I believe there are two important steps that Allegheny County officials can immediately take to mitigate particulate air pollution:
First: They can require buildings to use clean heats, which significantly reduces the emission of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and often come in the form of heat pumps or solar panels. When PM2.5 becomes embedded in people’s lungs it can aggravate existing respiratory diseases such as asthma and cause heart attacks or other cardiovascular episodes.
Implementation of such policies in New York led to a 65 percent reduction in fine particulate matter and a reduction in emergency room visits and hospitalizations.
Second: Access to public transportation can reduce the use of cars, a prominent contributor to air pollution in Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh already has a venerable public transportation system with its Port Authority bus system, however, bus stations are often located away from public landmarks and in places that are not readily accessible to the average resident. Allegheny County officials can reduce air pollution by installing bus stations in even more public areas to provide alternatives to unnecessary automobile travel and thereby reduce CO2, particulate matter, and other mobile source emissions.
In addition to strengthening existing policies to reduce emissions from coke-making, Allegheny County needs to adopt the aforementioned measures for meaningful action toward reducing air pollution. Pittsburgh has had a hard time attracting and retaining young people after college and changing Pittsburgh’s image as a ‘clean air city’ may be a solution to this problem.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in an occasional series of guest blogs from local residents. If you have something to say about air pollution or air quality, we’d like to hear it. Email our communications manager Amanda Gillooly at firstname.lastname@example.org. GASP would love to feature – and help amplify – the voices of our high school and college students and those who live closest to and are most impacted by local air pollution sources such as U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works. Just drop us a line to get started!