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Pitt Public Health Deploys Air Pollution Monitors

PITTSBURGH, July 19, 2013 – A successful method for characterizing complex air pollution patterns that rewrote laws in New York City is being used to collect data in Pittsburgh this summer.
Jane Clougherty, M.Sc., Sc.D., an assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, is leading a team collecting data from 40 air pollution monitors mounted on telephone poles in downtown Pittsburgh. The monitors, which look like grey plastic suitcases, collect fine particulates, nitrogen oxides, ozone and other pollutants. The groundbreaking project is being conducted for the Allegheny County Health Department.
“Southwestern Pennsylvania has a complicated set of conditions that can lead to very localized air pollution problems,” said Dr. Clougherty. “The topography can concentrate pollutants in certain areas, and weather inversions can trap pollution in the valleys. There also are a variety of different sources of air pollution, including diesel-powered trucks and boats, coal-fired power plants, industry and even lawn mowers.”
Dr. Clougherty was part of a team that performed the New York City Community Air Survey using a similar array of 150 air pollution monitors. The survey revealed that old building boilers burning high-sulfur oils were creating a significant amount of pollution in several New York City neighborhoods. The health risks prompted Mayor Michael Bloomberg to push for regulations requiring cleaner fuels in 2011.
Pittsburgh’s battery-powered monitors, deployed weekly, are secured 10 to 12 feet off the ground on telephone and electrical poles across an array of locations with expected high, moderate and low pollution levels.
A previous Allegheny County Health Department-funded study found high levels of diesel exhaust pollution in downtown Pittsburgh.
“We’re looking at the different sources of diesel, such as barges, trucks, buses and construction equipment, to try to determine how each contributes to downtown Pittsburgh’s air pollution levels,” Dr. Clougherty said.
Deploying so many small monitors allows Dr. Clougherty to accurately map where and when pollution levels are elevated. This can help point to problems, giving health officials the opportunity to make recommendations that can improve public health.
Air pollution has been associated with asthma attacks, heart disease and cancer, among other health problems.
The monitors were deployed this past winter and will be operating through August. Next year, the monitors will be re-deployed, set on a timer to capture rush-hour specific exposures.
This project was funded by The Allegheny County Health Department.

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