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Six midstate counties on code orange air quality alert

Written by Kathleen Davis/WESA | Feb 5, 2019 4:50 AM
clairton_coke_works.jpg

US Steel's Clairton Coke Works. (Reid Frazier/StateImpact Pennsylvania)

(Pittsburgh) -- Twenty Pennsylvania counties are under a state-imposed Code Orange Air Quality alert, including Berks, Cumberland, Dauphin, York, Lebanon and Lancaster. This is due to higher than normal levels of fine particulate pollution, which are tiny particles that can be inhaled and cause health problems.

The state Department of Environmental Protection attributes the poor air quality to warmer temperatures and a lack of wind, which prevents the particles from blowing away.

The Allegheny County Health Department is also warning residents that air pollution locally will likely spike Tuesday.

Air quality in Pittsburgh was at an Air Quality Index of "moderate" Saturday and Sunday, meaning air quality is acceptable but could pose a danger for select groups especially sensitive to air pollution. However, air quality in Clairton was categorized as "unhealthy" over the weekend. At the "unhealthy" range, the government says all people may start to experience adverse health effects.

Poor air quality may have been exacerbated in Clairton because of December's Clairton Coke Works fire, which damaged pollution controls.

"The issue is particularly acute in the Mon Valley, but it affects all of the air in Allegheny County," said Matt Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Project. "This is just an unfortunate piling on of issues."

U.S. Steel has said most of the repairs on the Clairton Coke Works could be done by May. The facility has changed its operations in the meantime to lower its emissions.

U.S. Steel and the Allegheny County Health Department did not comment for this story.

The other counties involved in the air quality alert are:  Butler, Armstrong, Fayette, Northampton, Lehigh, Philadelphia, Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery, Chester, Allegheny, Beaver, Westmoreland and Washington.

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