PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Residents of Allegheny County have twice the cancer risk of those living in surrounding counties, according to a study from the Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.
“The report really is a compilation of all the best available information we have on hazardous air pollutants in Allegheny County,” said Jim Thompson with the Allegheny County Health Department Air Quality Program.
The risk is even 20 times higher in so places of concern, like the southeastern corner of Allegheny County where heavy industry and cooking operations affect air quality — areas downwind of Neville Island’s industrial complex and downtown from diesel emissions.
“We are downwind of a lot of major sources, particularly coal-fired plants,” Thompson said.
The report says Allegheny County is in the top 2 percent of counties in the US for cancer risk from air pollution.
“You have more diesel emissions when you have a higher concentration of people,” Thompson said. “We have a high concentration of industry in the country, so it’s not really a surprise.”
Specifically, the report shows that between 200 and 2008, there were 14,000 more deaths than would be expected based on national data. That includes 600 more lung cancer deaths than would be expected.
To tackle the problem, the County Health Department is partnering with the Heinz Endowment to clean up vehicle exhaust.
“Any equipment that was built before 2007 is much dirtier, so you can do these retrofits and reduce the emissions up to 90 percent,” Thompson said.
He admits, while Allegheny County had its best air quality last year, it’s still far from the goal.
“Our cancer rate in Allegheny County due to air pollution alone is about 61 in 1 million,” Thompson said. “And typically you want to get somewhere below 10.”