If you live in an area and want to be watchful about the air, here are some options to take action:
If you witness an air quality violation — maybe you see heavy smoke or smell bad odors that aren’t typically there — you can report it to the Allegheny County Health Department. Call (412) 687-ACHD (2243) or click here to report an incident.
Many of these permits are up for renewal in the next year or two. After reviewing a company's air-quality permit, you may want to provide input during the permitting process, which could result in a change. Here’s an EPA guide to participating in the process.
For questions on air quality issues you can also reach out to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection at 412-442-4184, GASP at 412-924-0604 or info[at]gasp-pgh[dot]org.
You can also reach out to your local representatives to tell them what you think about air quality in our region. Click here for a list of Pittsburgh city council members by district or click here for a list of Allegheny County council members by district.
Pollutant: Particulate matter
What it is: Mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the air that can be composed of many different types of materials. PM 10: Inhalable particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter, found near roadways and dusty industries. PM 2.5: Inhalable particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter; generally found in smoke and haze, emitted from natural sources like forest fires and industrial combustion sources, or formed when gases react in the air.
Health problems shown by studies: Irritation of the airways, coughing, and difficulty breathing, reduced lung function, aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, nonfatal heart attacks, some cancers.
Pollutant: Carbon Monoxide (CO)
What it is: Colorless, odorless gas emitted from combustion process.
Health problems shown by studies: CO can cause harmful health effects by reducing oxygen delivery to the body's organs (like the heart and brain) and tissues. At extremely high levels, CO can cause death.
Pollutant: Nitrogen Oxide (NOx)
What it is: Nitrogen oxides come from various sources, including emissions from cars, trucks and buses, power plants, off-road equipment, and agricultural sources. Nitrogen oxides includes nitrogen dioxide.
Health problems shown by studies: Nitrogen oxides are linked with adverse effects on the respiratory system and can contribute to adverse respiratory and cardiovascular effects associated with exposure to ozone and fine particles.
Pollutant: VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds)
What it is: Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs are emitted by a variety of products numbering in the thousands. Examples include: paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions.
Health problems shown by studies: Eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, loss of coordination, nausea, damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Key signs or symptoms associated with exposure to VOCs include conjunctival irritation, nose and throat discomfort, headache, allergic skin reaction, dyspnea, declines in serum cholinesterase levels, nausea, emesis, epistaxis, fatigue, dizziness.
The ability of organic chemicals to cause health effects varies greatly from those that are highly toxic to those with no known health effect. As with other pollutants, the extent and nature of the health effect will depend on many factors including level of exposure and length of time exposed.
Pollutant: Sulfur oxides (SOx)
What it is: Sulfur oxides come from fossil fuel combustion by power plants, large industries, and mobile
sources, and from some industrial processes. Sulfur oxides include sulfur dioxide (SO2).
Health problems shown by studies: Sulfur oxides are linked with adverse effects on the respiratory
system and can contriubute to adverse respiratory and cardiovascular effects associated with exposure to ozone and fine particles.
Pollutant: Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs)
What it is: EPA is required to control 187 hazardous air pollutants. See the EPA's list of HAPS: http://www.epa.gov/airtoxics/188polls.html
Health problems shown by studies: Hazardous air pollutants, also known as toxic air pollutants or air toxics, are those pollutants that cause or may cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as reproductive effects or birth defects, or adverse environmental and ecological effects.
What it is: Benzene is found in the air from emissions from burning coal and oil, gasoline service stations, and motor vehicle exhaust.
Health problems shown by studies: Acute (short-term) inhalation exposure of humans to benzene may cause drowsiness, dizziness, headaches, as well as eye, skin, and respiratory tract irritation, and, at high levels, unconsciousness. Chronic (long-term) inhalation exposure has caused various disorders in the blood, including reduced numbers of red blood cells and aplastic anemia, in occupational settings. Reproductive effects have been reported for women exposed by inhalation to high levels, and adverse effects on the developing fetus have been observed in animal tests. Increased incidence of leukemia (cancer of the tissues that form white blood cells) have been observed in humans occupationally exposed to benzene. EPA has classified benzene as known human carcinogen for all routes of exposure.