Soot Levels Rise Across The U.S. Surpassing Pre-Pandemic Levels and Surprising Expert

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November 17, 2022 | Pittsburgh Works Together

Soot Levels Rise Across The U.S. Surpassing Pre-Pandemic Levels and Surprising Expert

Average PM2.5 levels in the Pittsburgh region increased as well, but not as much

PITTSBURGH – A new analysis of air quality in the Pittsburgh region shows that the amount of the tiny soot particles that can pose a health concern rose above pre-pandemic levels last year, though not by as much as the increase seen in other regions and in the U.S. overall.

EPA data show that average PM2.5 readings last year in the U.S. and in most regions of the country hit levels not seen since 2015 and defy any easy explanation, according to the Clearing The Air 3.0 report prepared by Pittsburgh Works Together.

Significantly, the PM2.5 level measured at the Liberty Borough air monitor, the last monitor in the Pittsburgh region to meet EPA standards, remained below pre-pandemic levels in 2021.

“This data shows the complexity of this global issue as we seek to understand why this is happening, whether it is pollution drifting into the U.S. from overseas or some other explanation,” said Jeff Nobers, Executive Director of Pittsburgh Works Together. “Everyone wants air that is as clean as possible, but despite this disappointing discovery, the Pittsburgh region remains fairly typical of other big-city metro areas. About half of the 50 largest metro regions saw larger jumps in PM2.5 from 2019 levels than we did.”

The report can be viewed here.

Findings in this report include:

  • Allegheny County met all EPA Clean Air requirements in 2021 for the first time ever under the current standards.
  • The Pittsburgh region scored worse for PM2.5 than most big-city regions but was better than places including Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Denver for peak daily levels and San Diego, Indianapolis, and Cincinnati for its annual average.
  • The Pittsburgh region scored better than most big-city regions for ozone, including Denver, Salt Lake City, Austin, and Nashville.
  • The region’s sulfur dioxide (SO2) levels continue to decline and met EPA standards in 2021 for the first time ever.

“Over the past decade, we’ve been doing better than most places in cleaning our air. But just because conditions are improving overall doesn’t mean there isn’t more work to do,” Nobers said. “We need to recognize that Allegheny County and the Pittsburgh region are pretty typical of heavily developed, big-city regions.”

The executive summary for Clearing The Air 3.0, as well as a link to the full report can be found here.

Pittsburgh Works Together is a business-organized labor-workforce-economic development alliance working to grow jobs and expand the industries that are the foundation of our economy, including energy, manufacturing, and construction, in order to provide opportunity for all Pennsylvania residents.

Contact: Ken Zapinski | Director of Research & Public Policy

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Jeff Nobers | Executive Director |
Ken Zapiniski | Director of Research and Public Policy |
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