Now Reading
Clean air is still a goal for low-income Pittsburghers

Clean air is still a goal for low-income Pittsburghers

The Pittsburgh region was known for its industrial pollution for well over a century. The light from the sun was dimmed sometimes by the smoke from steel and coal plants. A writer for The Atlantic Monthly (1868) called Pittsburgh hell with the lid removed. In the 1940s, smoke from factories covered buildings and bridges. This was so thick that authorities turned on streetlights at night. Pittsburgh’s air pollution caused so much damage that the steel manufacturing hub was called the City of Smoke.

The smog was a constant threat to the health of those who worked in the steel and other industries in the region. It led to economic growth and prosperity. This began to change with reforms in 1940. Only in 1970, when the U.S. Clean Air Act was passed, officials forced the steel industry into cleaning up its operations.

READ MOREU.N. health agency sets higher and more stringent standards for air quality

Despite being passed by the federal landmark legislation, the air in the region remains one of the most polluted in America, 50 years later. Allegheny County includes the city and its surrounding areas. Top 1 PercentAccording to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA), there are a number of U.S. states that are at high risk for cancer from toxic air pollutants from stationary sources. The county has not met federal standards for pollutants, including particulates or ground-level Ozone. This leads to high rates of asthma, COPD, heart disease, and COPD in America, especially among the lowest-income communities of Color.

Despite Pittsburgh’s transformation over the past decades from an industrial powerhouse into a 21st-century metropolis, where the main economic engines are tech sector, top-class medical centers and higher education; the region has been unable shake its legacy of polluted air. Sixty percentThe majority of pollution in the region comes still from industrial sources, such as steel plants. This contrasts to metropolitan areas like New York City, where the majority of pollutants are generated by heating residential and commercial buildings.

Children living near outdoor pollution sources are particularly vulnerable to chronically polluted areas. According to the EPA, 39% of schoolchildren who live near major industrial pollution sources are exposed to levels of emissions that exceed federal guidelines. A 2020 StudyOf 1,200 students from Pittsburgh, 52 percent were Black. The 22.5 percent who suffered from asthma resulted from their exposure to a combination of contaminants such as sulfur, fine particulate matter, and nitric dioxide. Other factors like insurance coverage played a role.

A 2020 StudyJames Fabisiak, an University of Pittsburgh professor of environment health, discovered that environmental justice communities in Allegheny County were also exposed to pollution from industrial sources. Their exposure to nitrogen dioxide and black carbon (a component of the fine particulate material known as PM2.5) was 25 times greater than that of other groups. The study revealed that 40% of deaths from coronary disease in counties were caused by residents of lower income or minority backgrounds, even though these residents make up only 28 per cent of the total population.

Clairton, a low income community of 6,600 residents, is the epitome of Allegheny County’s air pollution problems. It is located 15 miles south of Pittsburgh, on the Monongahela River. Here, U.S. Steel operates North America’s largest coal-to-coke plant for steelmaking. The 400-acre site emits smoke and steam from its black chimneys, visible from Clairton High School football fields less than a mile away. Clairton’s official poverty rate is 22 percent. Many stores are abandoned and some streets are littered with empty lots. There is no large supermarket in the community, so residents must drive or use public transportation to get to the nearest full-service grocery store, which is about a 25-minute bus trip away.

Contrary to Clairtons’ largely deserted streets and buildings, the eastern edge of Clairtons’ coke plant bustles with trucks and trains transporting coal in and steaming out coke. The air smells occasionally sulfurous.

Gloria M. Ford (81), a local resident, suffers from poor ozone. She has two inhalers to treat her symptoms of bronchial inflammation. She attributes her health problems to living in Clairton for the majority of her life. This contrasts with her siblings, who live in other cities and don’t have breathing problems, even though they used to smoke cigarettes.

Ford recalls having an asthma attack when she returned to Clairton from visiting her sister in Cleveland, Ohio. She said she couldn’t breath in a recent interview at Clairtons main street senior center. I had to call paramedics. It was terrifying. It was terrifying. I could only speak one word at once.

Clairton, which has 37 percent Black residents, is one of several environmental justice communities designated by Pennsylvania. These communities are disproportionately affected and afflicted by pollution and related illnesses like asthma and cancer.

According to the Allegheny County Health Department’s environmental justice survey, Clairton had a higher-than-average death rate due to cancer between 2011 and 2015. 2019 environmental justice indexThe study that examined air quality and nine other factors revealed that the most severely affected areas in the county were those that are along the Monongahela River. This is where many industrial facilities are found. Weather inversions trap bad air in the valleys of its rivers, making pollution in the region worse.

Allegheny County is still one of the most polluted metropolitan areas in America. The American Lung Association ranked the 12-county Pittsburgh region as “The Most Polluted in America” in April 2021. ninth-worstU.S. metropolitan area for fine particles pollution, even though it rose that same year to its highest-ever level.

Matt Mehalik is the executive director of The Breathe ProjectThe non-profit organization promoting cleaner air in the area,, said that recent improvements in the air quality in the area were largely due to the pandemic, and the resulting economic slowdown. It is reasonable to conclude, however, that the performance of pollution sources in Allegheny County has not improved much. Instead, they have taken advantage of lower background levels to keep the air clean. [allowable]Mehalik said that limit is important.

Mehalik and others have voiced concern about Allegheny County Health Department’s failure to enforce state and federal air pollution laws. (Under Clean Air Act, local authorities were allowed to lead enforcement of the act in certain heavily polluted locations. Braddock, located just upstream of Pittsburgh on Monongahela, is also affected by pollution from U.S. Steels Edgar Thomson. Despite repeated violations of air quality by the Allegheny County Health Department being issued to both Clairton and Thomson plants over the years, high levels of pollution persist. Some community advocates and environmentalists argue that U.S. Steel views the fines imposed on it by the health department as a cost of doing business.

PennEnvironmentAdvocate group, maintains that the failure to enforce standards has been caused by the health department’s historical reliance upon consent orders with industrial polluters, rather than the imposition a strong penalty, The department did no respond to requests for comment.

The nonprofit stated that any effective approach to environmental enforcement relies on the credible threat to financial penalties to eliminate any economic benefit of polluting, along with tough requirements to ensure polluters make the necessary upgrades to protect public safety. 2019 report.

Despite its declining prominence in the Pittsburgh region U.S. Steel, which has three plants in Allegheny County, still exercises a large political power. Critics claim that the steel giants’ long-standing economic and political dominance in this region discourages public criticism. Howard Rieger, an activist who organized a series a community townhalls for better air quality, stated that a deferential approach to U.S. Steel is still common because if we think about what built Pittsburgh and sustained Pittsburgh, it was steel industry. Pittsburgh was meant to be subservient U.S. Steel.

Amanda Malkowski is a U.S. Steel spokeswoman. She stated that the company had invested $300 million in environmental improvements at its Pittsburgh area plants over the past three years, even though no government agency required the upgrades. She pointed out that U.S. Steels emissions met or exceeded 99 percent of county health regulations in 2020 and 2021. Malkowski stated that the company plans to close three coke oven batteries at Clairton by March 2023 to reduce local emissions.

U.S. Steel’s hopes of reducing its carbon emissions were thwarted in 2021 when it dropped its plan to invest $1.5 Billion in modernizing manufacturing technology at its three Monongahela Valley plants. Instead, the company will invest in new factories in Alabama or Arkansas where it will employ non-union labor. U.S. Steel states that it is committed. Continued productionAt the Pittsburgh-area plants.

See Also

In December 2018, a Clairton plant sprinkler system failure caused a major fire. This destroyed pollution controls and resulted in a sharp rise in emissions. Three weeks later, the Allegheny County Health Department advised 22 residents of 22 Pittsburgh-area areas to limit their outdoor activities. PennEnvironment was formed by the health department in partnership with the nonprofit Clean Air CouncilThey are asking a federal judge for a ruling that U.S. Steel violated Clean Air Act more then 12,000 times, by operating without pollution controls for three consecutive months after the fire. According to Zachary Barber, a PennEnvironment clean air advocate, the groups want a federal judge confirm that violations occurred and to impose a proper penalty.

Dr. Deborah Gentile is a pediatric asthma specialist and runs a clinic on Clairtons main Street. It remains to be seen if scaling back the Clairton operation can materially improve the air quality. Gentile has seen asthma patients in Monongahela Valley for 20 years. She has discovered that about half of her patients are Black and many of them are poor. Their cases are often linked to outdoor pollution sources like the Clairton Coke Works.

She prescribes inhalers and steroids, and recommends that people who have the money install air filters in their homes. She also warns against exercising outside on bad days. However, she knows that preventing the causes of air pollution is better than trying to treat it.

This is really secondary. She said that it is trying to control the problem once it has occurred. You want to prevent the disease from happening and stop attacks by preventing triggers.

Gentile hopes the EPA can ease the burden on her patients in this year’s review of regulations under National Ambient Air Quality Standards by tightening its health limit for fine particle matter. Even the stricter limits proposed by the EPA would be less stringent that those recommended by World Health Organization.

Shell Oils could also undermine any gains in air quality. Petrochemical plant with huge capacityAdvocates say that the Marcellus Shale will open in Monaca in January, approximately 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. They also plan to continue fracking for natural gases at various sites in the Marcellus Shale’s southwestern Pennsylvania section.

Clairton resident Germaine Gooden Patterson is trying to persuade neighbors to protect their right to clean air. A community health worker for the nonprofit Women for a Healthy EnvironmentGooden-Patterson said that it is not always easy to convince people to fight for clean water, especially when Clairton residents are already struggling with daily challenges. It can be difficult to convince residents, who may not have access to the internet or smartphones, to report air quality violations on a difficult-to-navigate county website. The app is available for those who use smartphones. Smell PittsburghFrom Carnegie Mellon Universitys Create LabShe stated that it is easier to report bad air.

Gooden-Patterson, aged 58, is a single mother with three children. She has lived in Clairton 16 years. I have always had a murmur in my heart, but I started to do this. [health]During a Clairton walking tour, she stated that I had started to put two and two together because my heart was pounding from the pollution. Although she considered moving away, her community engagement has convinced her that her efforts to mobilize her neighbors are gaining momentum. She has decided to stay for now.

She said, “I know I can’t just get out of bed and go.” There’s a lot of work to do here.

Yale Environment 360 granted permission for this article to be reproduced. It was first published Jan. 27, 2022. Find the original story Here.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.