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Air Pollution Still a Factor in Pennsylvania

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Shippingport, PAThere are few areas that know Air Pollution health effects quite like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, together with other communities that line the Ohio River. While the air is generally cleaner than it used to be, thanks in part to the Federal Clean Air Act which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, residents aren't out of the woods yet, according to a year-long investigative report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The newspaper quoted Ralph Hysong as being relieved his son Chad moved his wife and two young daughters further west into Ohio from Shippingport, to escape the bad air. "In Shippingport people don't die of old age, they die of cancer or heart attacks or lung disease," said Mr. Hysong, who's 64 and has a history of heart problems and high blood pressure. "I'm happy Chad and his family got out."

Previously, white ash would descend from the sky, pitting the chrome and paint on the family car. High concentrations of arsenic were found in the soil around Chad's house and the water in his hot tub.

The Post-Gazette reviewed and analyzed mortality statistics from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and found that 14,636 more people died from heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer in the region from 2000 through 2008 than national mortality rates for those diseases would predict.

The total number of excess deaths from those three diseases, after adjusting for slightly higher smoking rates in Pennsylvania, is 12,833—more than 10 percent higher overall than would be expected in a population of approximately 3 million people in 14 counties, based on national risk rates for those three diseases.

Air pollution and stroke can also be a killer combination.

And while the infamous 'Pittsburgh smell' has long gone and the city no longer has to run streetlights during the daytime due to the amount of soot floating around in the air, there is still concern for many communities: Shippingport and Monaca, Bellevue and Sewickley, Masontown and Clearfield, Cranberry and Bridgeville, and Pittsburgh and hundreds of others have been affected.

For residents, the fallout from Air Pollution exposure can include Air Pollution stroke. The latter was isolated by a Danish study that found the exhaust from motor vehicles could trigger stroke symptoms in some individuals. Various lawsuits have attempted to hold polluters accountable for bad air that sickens and can sometimes kill.

But compensation awards for ruined health pales in comparison to a life lived free of disease with the aid of clean air. "The US Environmental Protection Agency still views the region as a [pollution] hot spot," said John Graham, senior scientist with the Clean Air Task Force, a national nonprofit research and advocacy organization that since 1994 has focused on air quality and climate issues. Graham is doing air pollution research in southwestern Pennsylvania for the Heinz Endowments.

"There have been a lot of air quality improvements in the region but they haven't happened at a consistent pace," he said. "Based on the latest PM [airborne particulate matter] data [southwestern Pennsylvania] still ranks as one of the worst urban areas of the country."

Even low level air pollution can be a factor for many people. "The air is not clean," says Graham, "and it's killing people."

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