The Pittsburgh area consistently receives F-grades from the American Lung Association, and a recent study estimated that the metro area had the fourth most air-pollution related deaths of any metro area in the U.S.
PennEnvironment canvass director Sarah Starman says the demands of the petition are to get industrial facilities to provide up-to-date clean air permits, to tighten Allegheny County’s air-quality requirements, and to enforce penalties to polluters more strictly. She said at a press conference that PennEnvironment collected signatures from all over Allegheny County.
“Every Pittsburgher has the right to breathe clean air, but right now that is at risk due to industrial pollution,” said Starman, noting that 70 percent of Allegheny County’s air pollution comes from 10 large facilities. “Public health should be the priority, not the interest of corporate polluters.”
With current Allegheny County Health Director Karen Hacker on her way out, Starman said the petitions should put pressure on the county council to select a new director who has a strong focus on air quality.
The petitions were delivered to Allegheny County Councilor Anita Prizio (D-O'Hara), who has been a strong advocate for environmental protections. Prizio noted the high cancer risk that Allegheny County residents experience likely because of air pollution.
“We need the Allegheny Health Department to enforce its standards,” said Prizio.
Recently, the health department has taken a more aggressive approach toward the Clairton Coke Works, one of the county’s biggest polluters. In April, the coke works, run by U.S. Steel, was fined $700,000 for its ongoing emission problems.
Some residents and health-care workers are happy with the recent enforcement action, but say the petitions are necessary to ensure those efforts are maintained and potentially expanded.
Laura Dagley is a nurse in the Pittsburgh region. She said that air pollution is directly linked to lung and bladder cancer, as well as increased asthma rates.
“As a nurse, I try to help people live healthy lives,” said Dagley. “I can suggest to them to stop smoking or eat a better diet, but they can’t choose not to breathe the air.”
Ann Dekleva, of Greenfield, also spoke at the rally. She recently moved to Pittsburgh where her husband took a job at the University of Pittsburgh. She said she didn’t know much about Pittsburgh, but had heard about the city’s economic rebound and about how it was the “most livable.”
But after learning about all the air-quality problems the region faces, she said she is questioning her family’s future in Pittsburgh.
“We can't make a home here if the air quality continues to be a concern,” said Dekleva.