The Southwest Pennsylvania Air Quality Partnership is marking its 15th anniversary today and Allegheny County Health Department Spokesperson Guillermo Cole says the group has had a positive impact on the region. The partnership began as a joint effort of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the County Health Department and a hand full of other organizations and business as the “Southwest Pennsylvania Ozone Partnership.” Its goal was to work to lower the levels of ground level ozone in the region and increase public awareness of the health risks of ozone and what people can do to help keep ozone levels in check. Cole says a few years later the group changed its name as it expanded its scope to include fine particulate matter. Like ground level ozone, fine particulate matter can cause eye and lung irritation.
The partnership has grown in size as well as in scope. It now includes nearly 140 individuals, businesses and organizations. Cole says he thinks the partnership has made a difference. “If nothing else the partnership has created a much greater awareness about air pollution in the region and the activities that individuals can take to reduce air pollution,” says Cole. He says those efforts need to be combined with limitations backed up by regulations for businesses and industries. Perhaps the most visible work of the partnership is the issuance of “ozone action day” and particulate mater warnings.
The seven-county region covered by the partnership is still out of compliance for ground level ozone levels and in some places there are regular violations of federal particulate matter standards. Cole says that should not be seen as failure. “The region has actually had some success in meeting air quality standards for ozone and fine particulates,” says Cole, “what has happened is the EPA has tightened the standards over the years and we now have more stringent standards for both of the those pollutants.”