The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is to be commended for publishing a report on air pollution in our 14-county region– “Mapping Mortality”. Over an eight-day period that concluded December 19, reporters Don Hopey and David Templeton examined the question “Can higher rates of death be linked to air pollution?” At the core of the report is the extensive examination of mortality rates for heart and respiratory diseases and lung cancer. An interactive map provides the mortality rates for each individual municipality, compared to the national average. Clearly much needs to be done by the counties, the state Department of Environmental Protection, and the federal EPA.
From their analysis of deaths reported to the state over the years 2000 to 2008, the authors found “After adjusting for slightly higher smoking rates in Pennsylvania, the total number of excess deaths from those three diseases is 12,833. That’s still a more than 10 percent higher mortality rate overall than would be expected in the population of approximately 3 million people in 14 counties, based on national risk rates for those three diseases.”
As it follows the main thread of the impact of air pollution, the report includes numerous side articles. In Part I a description of how the analysis was conducted is accompanied by an account of the 1948 Donora when fog and pollution combined to kill 22 people in the Monongahela valley communities. Part II focuses on the ‘clusters’ of death, and in Part III the difficulty of enforcement in Springdale and Clairton is discussed. Part IV deals with the controversial topic of wind-born pollution, coming in from Ohio, and going NE to Clearfield County. A topic of interest to the Sierra Club, ‘coal ash’, is discussed in Part V with attention to the Little Blue impoundment of Beaver County. The effect of fine particulate matter in Clairton and Springdale is the topic of Part VI, and the exposure for power plant workers is discussed in Part VII.
In the concluding Part VIII the authors related improving the livability and economic future of the region to quickening the reduction of air and water pollution. That is a message that elected officials still need to heed. We should expect them to move beyond the old saw that we cannot afford to make the region ‘uncompetitive’ by imposing stricter regulations and enforcement.