If we’re the sootiest, I’m happy
May 5, 2008, 1:18 pm
Filed under: Pittsburgh | Tags: , ,

Last week, while home, Fox News reported gleefully that Los Angeles is no longer the nation’s sootiest city, as measured by the American Lung Association. Instead, that honor goes to Pittsburgh. I found the written AP article here. Specifically, Pittsburgh is number one in short-term soot.

Now, to be clear, it’s not that Pittsburgh has gotten sootier, but that Los Angeles has improved it’s soot output. Also, Los Angeles still wins in year-round soot pollution and smog, as well as being named the number one all-around polluted city. So what does this report mean to us? Not a whole lot. I’m a little pissed that the 20 second blurb didn’t go into any of these details. Instead, all they say is that we’re the sootiest, and Los Angeles is the second sootiest. They don’t discern between short term and year round (however, I can’t figure out the difference, either), nor do they mention that Los Angeles is still the worst polluted.

Furthermore, let’s talk about where Pittsburgh has come in the past decades. I watched the Cathedral of Learning being pressure-washed (sand-blasted, really) this past summer. Decades of soot literally poured right off the side of the building, and the building went from being streaked with black to bright and shiny again. Other area buildings have done the same: the Carnegie Museums, St. Paul’s Cathedral, other buildings downtown that I can’t remember right now. Naysayers might argue that we’re scrubbing off the history of the city for the sake of vanity, but really, that soot is just as bad for the building as it is for our lungs. Everytime it rained, the soot produced a weak acid in the rain water, giving the building an acid bath. Given enough time, and the building would have disintegrated. So, deal with it.

That soot IS our history, though. When my mom went to Pitt, businessmen didn’t wear their white shirts exposed when going to work. Nurses in their old-fashioned white uniforms had to carry them to work, and change there. Weather inversions trapped the soot and smog in the city for days in miserable summer heat.

Then, the steel mills left. The nature of the city was irreparably changed. We lost a lot of folks who had to go elsewhere for jobs. In recent years, we’ve built up a substantial medical and biotech industry that has energized the city and the local economy. Without the steel mills belching out pollution, the city’s atmosphere has cleaned up substantially.

We don’t have weather inversions anymore, and wearing white isn’t a fashion risk. Yes, it’s still dirty. I washed my old apartment’s windows, so this I know without a doubt.

But if Pittsburgh is the nation’s sootiest (short term soot! whatever that means) city, then I would argue that we’re in pretty good shape as a country. It would be nice if national news reports could include the other sides of the story. Or even any details! Slandering Pittsburgh is not necessary.

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