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Here in the Upper Ohio Valley we know there has been considerable improvement in the amount of air and water pollution to which we are exposed, compared with just a few decades ago. Still, our region and its chemical/industrial base and dependence on extraction industries is not out of the woods when it comes to the air we breathe.

According to the American Lung Association’s annual tracking of air pollution in U.S. cities, Environmental Protection Agency data shows the Pittsburgh/New Castle/Weirton metro area has the ninth highest year-round particle pollution in the country.

“Particulate matter, especially PM2.5, is capable of penetrating deep into the lungs and entering the bloodstream, causing cardiovascular, cerebrovascular (stroke) and respiratory impacts,” according to the World Health Organization. “There is emerging evidence that particulate matter impacts other organs and causes other diseases as well.”

Particulate pollution can come from living in deserts or an area prone to wildfires. But here we know a significant portion of it comes from power plants, industry and transportation. For generations families have worked hard in industries that supported them, their communities and everyone who benefited from what they produced.

It is essential, then, that officials work toward solving the problem of the damage done to our own health and the health of our planet and the degree to which our communities would crumble should those industries evaporate overnight. Those who remember what the air and water in our region looked like 50 years or so ago can tell us we have made enormous strides already. Change is possible.

Reports such as that by the ALA remind us more change is necessary. As we diversify and expand our economy, and shift toward taking better care of our environment, we can’t forget to do it in a way that does not sacrifice the economic wellbeing of the people living in it.

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