By Bob Allen

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – For generations, the Mon Valley has been plagued by an industrial pollution problem.

Lately the air has been so bad, the community has been facing a string of Code Orange Air Quality Action Day, causing a danger for children and the elderly.

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Sadly, the pollution has been around so long, that people in Clairton and Liberty areas say they’ve learned to live with it and some of the health problems it brings.

When it’s a Code Orange Air Quality Action Day, Clairton resident Julia Simon spends as little time as possible outside and keeps her oxygen tank nearby.

“That’s why you see me in the house — windows closed and my oxygen on,” she said.

According to the state Department of Environmental Protection, the culprits are the weather — temperature inversions — and the U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works.


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As you go higher into the atmosphere, temperatures usually cool. When you have an inversion, however, temperatures rise as you ascend through the atmosphere.

Inversions have been getting a lot of attention in the Pittsburgh area lately.

These inversions play a major role in trapping pollution near the Earth’s surface. Usually, these air pollutants are associated with heat, so they rise higher into the atmosphere. When we have a temperature inversion, that heat can no longer lift the pollutants away.

“We also live in a big river basin which is bassically a big bowl, so all the pollution we’re producing just kind of sits here, so that’s why it’s important that we limit that kind of pollution,” said clean air advocate Zach Barber.

While Code Orange is dangerous for children, the elderly and those with respiratory problems, it’s a pollution problem that’s been around for decades in Clairton.

“We would go to our car — you know how that pollution comes from the mill, sticks on your windows?” resident Ella Harper said. “You couldn’t even wipe it off with your windshield (wipers), you had to get out and actually wipe it off with a cloth or something because it’s sticking.”

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Clean air advocates have been calling on the Allegheny County Health Department to provide better communication when it comes to protecting residents, hold U.S. Steel accountable for what they say is poor facility maintenance and update county regulations.