Allegheny County is drafting a rule that would require U.S. Steel to take action during high-pollution days

In mid-December, the state of Pennsylvania issued a warning to residents in the Mon Valley: The forecast wasn’t about the snow but about the poor quality of its air during a temperature inversion. This follows a streak of poor air quality last winter, and more recently. One day in November, air pollution in the Mon Valley reached 129 micrograms of fine particulate matter. The 24-hour standard set by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] is 35 micrograms per cubic centimeter (µg/m3). This level is considered especially unhealthy for sensitive groups like children, the elderly and people with asthma. 

The air also exceeded the state standard for hydrogen sulfide for seven days straight during a temperature inversion in early November.

2020 in pictures: A journey through a year like no other in Pittsburgh

No one will forget 2020. Pandemic, protests, the election — and yet everyone has experienced 2020 in their own way. While its effects appear to cut across lines of class, race and gender, 2020 has also been a year to expose and attenuate the profound inequalities in our society. These photographs are taken from a personal account of a shared experience, of a journey through a year like no other. They provide, on occasion, a first-hand account of some of the year’s major events, seen from our small city. 

Nestled between the Northeast and the Midwest, Pittsburgh is unique, quirky, specific — and a barometer of the country as a whole.

PFAS chemicals are ubiquitous. A Pitt scientist is working to protect you from thousands of types at once.

A single PFAS chemical featured in the movie “Dark Waters” last year about contamination from a Teflon plant in Parkersburg, W.Va. resulted in a $670 million court settlement. A community study showed the chemical was linked to six diseases: kidney cancer, increased cholesterol, ulcerative colitis, thyroid disease, preeclampsia and testicular cancer. 

But that chemical, PFOA, is just one of the more than 4,000 types of PFAS chemicals that scientists believe could undermine human health across the world. While most researchers study a handful of these chemicals at most, Carla Ng is one of the few scientists trying to find an approach that works for all of them. “So without a lot of data, how are we going to tackle all these?” Ng, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh, asked a group of scientists at a PFAS toxicology conference in 2019, where she was the only scientist invited to give two presentations. 

To make headway, Ng is building more sophisticated animal models and studying the chemicals through computer simulations.

Q&A: After chronicling Trump’s environmental record, this Pittsburgh reporter explains the big stakes on Election Day.

Over the past four years, reporter Reid Frazier has been hosting a podcast called “Trump on Earth” to discuss the environmental policy changes pursued by President Donald Trump’s administration. We spoke to Frazier about the upcoming presidential election and what is at stake for environmental policy here in Southwestern Pennsylvania and across the broader region.

illustration of pittsburgh city skyline and hazy polluted sky.

Which buildings in Pittsburgh emit the most greenhouse gases? See how they compare.

Pittsburgh’s biggest challenge to meeting its climate change goals is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from its buildings. Buildings in the city produce four times as many emissions as vehicles. The city’s most substantial effort to do something about it was released last month: It made public the energy use of the city’s largest buildings. The hope is that transparency will encourage building owners to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy. 

To that end, we are publishing a map of where these emissions are coming from to help readers understand, across the city, neighborhood-by-neighborhood, which buildings emit how much. 

The biggest source of greenhouse gases by building type are the hospitals and universities that drive the city’s economy. But collectively the city’s many office buildings emit more.

SpringHill Suites on the Southside was one of the most energy efficient hotels in the city according to new data released. (Photo by Jay Manning/PublicSource)

The greenhouse gas emissions of Pittsburgh’s largest buildings are now public. The city hopes transparency will make them cleaner.

Pittsburgh passed an ordinance requiring all building owners with 50,000 or more square feet to report information about their energy and water use. But it hadn’t released the information until now. The city released the information to PublicSource for 2017 and 2018 and is working on a report and dashboard that will include data from 2019.