Climate Change & Our Air

Photo by Jay Kuntz; used with permission

Photo by Jay Kuntz; used with permission

o Despite notable improvements in recent years, Pittsburgh and Allegheny County residents are exposed to some of the most polluted air in the nation. Major industrial facilities, fossil fuel power plants, and oil and gas operations in the area emit a wide range of air pollutants and toxic substances [22a22b22c].

o According to the State of The Air 2017 report by the American Lung Association, the Pittsburgh metro area ranks as the eighth most-polluted area in the US in terms of year-round particulate matter pollution (out of 184 metro areas assessed) [23a23b].

o In 2015, the Pittsburgh metro area experienced 220 days with high levels of fine particulate matter pollution. It also experienced 93 days with elevated levels of ozone pollution, ranking it third among cities in the US Northeast for most such days during that year [24].

o Nearly 1.5 million people and 1,300 schools in Pennsylvania are within half a mile of an oil or gas operation [25].

o According to the EPA’s 2011 National Air Toxics Assessment (published in 2015), over 1,300 tons of hazardous toxic air pollutants — such as benzene, 3 formaldehyde, and acetaldehyde — are emitted by oil and gas companies in the state [26].

o Due to exposure to toxic gases from the oil and gas industry, residents of eight counties surrounding Pittsburgh face cancer risks that exceed the EPA’s level of concern [27].

o Moreover, at least one analysis suggests that over 30,000 Pennsylvania children suffer asthma attacks each year due to ozone smog caused by oil and gas operations. About 25 percent of those children live in the Pittsburgh metro area, while just over 20 percent live in the Philadelphia metro area [28].

o Climate change may exacerbate air pollution. For example, rising average temperatures can speed up the chemical reactions that create smog. Nationally, it is estimated that global warming-related increases in smog and particulate pollution could cause as many as 4,300 more premature deaths each year by 2050 [29].