Upcoming Air Quality Report Long On Hot Air, Short On Cold Facts

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April 22, 2024


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Upcoming Air Quality Report Long On Hot Air, Short On Cold Facts

PITTSBURGH – The American Lung Association’s latest air quality report to be released this week continues to mislead the public on air quality in the Pittsburgh region, distorting facts and disregarding accepted air quality standards established by federal regulators, a business-labor alliance announced today.

“The American Lung Association continues to release flawed assessments of our region’s air quality,” said Jeff Nobers, executive director of Pittsburgh Works Together, a coalition of labor unions, businesses and civic leaders. “The people of southwestern Pennsylvania continually read and hear the same inaccurate assessments of air quality in our region. What people need to know are the facts.”

Allegheny County and the entire Pittsburgh region met federal air quality standards for tiny pollutant particles (PM2.5) and ozone for 2020-2022, the period covered by the ALA’s State of the Air report to be released Wednesday.

Yet the Lung Association tries to portray the region as having some of the worst air in the country, a finding that is contradicted by data in its own report.

Among other issues with the ALA’s approach:

  • The ALA report distorts the region’s actual air quality conditions by disregarding federal standards and awarding grades based on criteria the Lung Association developed on its own.
  • The report grades Allegheny County as “F” for short-term fine particle pollution and as “D” for ozone, even though the county complied with EPA standards for both pollutants during the time period (2020-2022) analyzed in the report.
  • The Lung Association relies on a few air quality monitors in Allegheny County to pass judgment on a 12-county Pittsburgh metro region that is nearly as large as the entire state of New Jersey. As a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial once said: “Thank goodness this isn’t a report on education. If Mrs. Brown had a classroom with 20 students, one of whom was illiterate, the American Lung Association would say Mrs. Brown’s class can’t read.”

Editor’s Note: The ALA selectively releases its report to news outlets under confidentiality terms, so critics do not have the opportunity to review and analyze the data and findings before they are publicized by the media. This is written based on the EPA data sets, methodology and practices that the ALA has used in its previous State of the Air reports.

The flaws in the ALA’s approach are most obvious in the report’s discussion of ozone in the Pittsburgh region.

The EPA maintains its own data set of the average ozone readings for metro regions across the country. For 2022, the Pittsburgh region had lower ozone levels than 37 of the 50 largest metro regions in the U.S. (74%), according to the EPA data. The region also complied with EPA standards. This finding was included in Clearing the Air 4.0, the Pittsburgh Works annual assessment of region air quality (https://pghworks.com/clearing-the-air-report/).

The data buried in the Lung Association’s own report reinforces this finding. The report concludes that three counties in the region – Fayette, Washington and Westmoreland – are on the list of the "Cleanest Counties for Ozone Air Pollution" in the U.S. Most of the rest of the counties in the 12-county Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton region either receive a grade of “B” or don’t have any data to measure. Here is how the ALA grades the individual counties:

But if the Lung Association follows its past practice, it will publicize this grade for the 12-county region, based solely on a handful of readings from a few monitors in Allegheny County:

And it will claim that the region went from a “C” in 2021 to a “D” in 2022, even though the EPA data shows there was no change in the regional average.

State of the Air has confusing findings in looking at fine particulate matter known as PM2.5. The report places some of the counties in the Pittsburgh-New Castle-Weirton region on the list of “Cleanest Counties for Short-Term Particle Pollution (24-hour PM2.5) in the U.S. A couple other counties have no data to measure at all, and most of the others get a grade of “B.”

Yet the ALA is expected to place all nine of those counties on the list of “25 Cities Most Polluted by Daily PM.”

Analysis by Pittsburgh Works in its Clearing the Air series of reports uses EPA and other data to illustrate that the air across the Pittsburgh region is fairly typical of a big-city metro region – better than in some places, worse than some others.

“The ALA’s annual distortions are counterproductive and create more divisiveness and move us further from viable solutions,” Nobers said.

The Post-Gazette, in the 2015 editorial quoted earlier, put it this way:

“The American Lung Association has the ability to convey air quality data with more accuracy and sophistication. Yet it refuses, favoring instead annual reports that alarm and deceive. Talk about a pollution source in need of cleanup.”1


1 https://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2015/05/26/Pollution-source-The-lung-association-s-air-report-deceives-again/stories/201505300017




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, to provide opportunity for all residents. To learn more, please visit pghworks.com.


Media Contacts:

Ken Zapinski

412-352-4364; ken@pghworks.com

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Jeff Nobers | Executive Director | Jeff@pghworks.com
Ken Zapiniski | Director of Research and Public Policy | ken@pghworks.com
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