Health & Wellness

Take a Deep Breath Pittsburgh

County unveils on-line, real-time air quality info, helpful for people with health issues.

We usually hear about air quality when something bad happens, like the fire at the US Steel Coke Works in Clairton (south east of Pittsburgh) in December 2018 that sent dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide into the air for weeks (Residents, Lawmakers Give U.S. Steel an Earful Over Clairton Air Problems).

But what about the daily quality of our air? That's important to elderly people, people with breathing problems like asthma and COPD, and people with heart disease. Should they go outside or stay home today? Now it's easy to find the information with the Allegheny County Health Department's new air quality dashboard on the county's website (click here) .

"This tool gives people more information about the air quality where they live," Rich Fitzgerald, County Executive

The new interactive site takes information from the health department's air quality monitors around the county and puts it into a format that anyone can understand. As you can see from the snapshot below, there are more monitors in the Monongahela River valley, where there's a concentration of steel mills and other manufacturing facilities.

You can look at real time data, or look back months or even years. The snapshot above (3 p.m. Wednesday) shows that while air quality for particulates was good yesterday afternoon, it was unhealthy last night and early this morning.

You can sort the data by where the monitors are located, or even by what type of pollutant they're measuring:

  • Fine Particulate Matter (PM2.5) : particles so fine they can't be seen with the naked eye, caused by power plants, cars, fires etc.
  • Ozone : created by chemicals (from industrial plants, cars, paints and solvents) reacting with ultraviolet light, usually a problem in the afternoon/summer.
  • Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) : produced when sulfur-containing fuels like coal and oil are burned (mostly from power & industrial plants). Even short term exposure can make breathing difficult for sensitive groups
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