Clearing the air

I’m back to writing after taking a few weeks’ break due to travel and a knee injury that’s still being worked up by my fine colleagues at UPMC. To start back up, I’m coming back to a topic that had just hit the front page when I left: air pollution. More specifically, the suggestion from Dan Onorato that Allegheny County could stand to drop our air quality program and let the state’s Department of Environmental Protection take over. THe basic argument is that A) it’s slower than the state would be and B) it’s driving away business by making regulations tougher than they need to be.

As far as part A, follow-up articles suggest that the county agency is about the same speed as the state. So what about part B? Are we being too stringent? Could DEP do the job more efficiently? Well, according to one (admittedly biased) source, PA is currently among the worst states for hazardous pollutants and particulates. As of last year, Pittsburgh continues to lag behind other cities on multiple air-quality metrics. In other words, our state has a problem, *and* Pittsburgh/Allegheny County’s problem is even worse. A county-level agency with a mission to fix our air sounds like the sort of thing we should be paying more attention to, not trying to fob on off the state.

2 Comments so far

  1. John Morris (unregistered) on November 24th, 2007 @ 2:16 pm

    I am not an expert on this but it would seem somewhat self evident that the region would be very prone to problems because of it’s hills and valleys in which pollutants can be trapped.

    This is one of the main reasons for my obsession with land use. Low density development and sprawl means tons of cars driving through tight valleys. Something is wrong when you have a place that combines low economic growth with poor air quality.

    Pittsburgh’s motto should be– Rarely have so few destroyed so much to get so little.

  2. John Morris (unregistered) on November 24th, 2007 @ 2:41 pm

    Here is a description of temperature inversions from Black Hills Weather.

    “Temperature inversions are common in cities located in mountain valleys or nestled up against a mountain range. Cold air sinks to the valley floor or base of the mountains and becomes trapped there, a process known as “cold air damming”. Unfortunately, air quality suffers in an inversion situation because pollutants like dust, smoke and vehicle emissions are trapped close to the ground by the warm layer of air above. The warm air layer acts like a lid and prevents pollutants from rising and dispersing. This can cause medical problems for people with respiratory ailments and irritate the eyes, noses and throats of others.”

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