Air Quality Grade in Pittsburgh Shows Need for Clean Energy Transition

New State of the Air report highlights city’s pollution problem

Stephanie Steinbrecher,

PITTSBURGH, PA - Air quality in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area is among the worst in the nation, according to the American Lung Association State of the Air 2018 report released on Wednesday. The American Lung Association gave Pittsburgh an “F” grade for ozone and particle pollution and ranked the city 8th for annual particle pollution in the country, highlighting the need for Pittsburgh to transition off of dirty fuels towards 100 percent clean and renewable energy.

"In Pittsburgh, we poise ourselves as an environmental leader who reinvented ourselves, but the whole story is no fairytale," said Eva Resnick-Day, community organizer with the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign. “We have a long way to go to make that true. Our air pollution is imperiling our own communities, especially those most at risk -- kids, seniors, and low-income families. We are starting at an ‘F.’ Our journey to a healthier future, one powered by clean energy and clean air, is just beginning."

The American Lung Association’s annual report looks at the two main types of air pollution in the US: ozone and particle pollution.

Ground-level ozone, often called “smog,” is a harmful pollutant that chemically affects lung tissue. Exposure to smog pollution is linked to immediate breathing problems like asthma attacks, chronic respiratory diseases, reproductive and developmental harm, and even premature death. Pittsburgh received a failing grade for ozone pollution, and the 2018 report shows ozone pollution worsened across the U.S., citing climate change as a main contributor.

Particle pollution refers to the small particles in the air that can be breathed in. Emissions into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels -- like from gas-powered vehicles or coal power plants -- are main contributors to both kinds of pollution. Year-round particle pollution is improving due to increased use of clean fuels at power plants and in vehicles, but Pittsburgh remains at the top of the “most polluted cities” list for particle pollution, sometimes called “soot.” Other Pennsylvania cities also topped the list: Lancaster is tied with Pittsburgh at 8th, with Philadelphia at 12th and Harrisburg at 15th.

More than 133.9 million people across the U.S. live in counties with unhealthy levels of one or both pollutant. This means that the risk of premature death, lung cancer, and respiratory illnesses is higher in these communities.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto signed on to the Mayors for 100 Percent Clean Energy initiative after Donald Trump announced the U.S. would pull out of the Paris Agreement last June. Peduto pledged to adhere to the global climate accord, in part to “create a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous world.”

Nearly 200 other U.S. mayors have also joined the initiative. Across the country, over 60 U.S. cities have now committed to transition entirely to clean, renewable energy.

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit