SmellPGH App – My favorite air quality resource is the SmellPGH App (for iOS and Android devices), developed by the CMU CREATE Lab. Note the relatively good day on the left, and the remarkably bad day on the right:

If you ever smell some foul pollution in Pittsburgh and think that you might be the only one who smells it, check the SmellPGH app and report your experience. You can read more about it here and here. And remember, if you smell it, SUBMIT IT!

UPDATE: The Allegheny County Health Department has shown some reluctance to use the SmellPGH data. While the CREATE Lab and ACHD work that out, it is helpful to also submit smell complaints to the ACHD directly (annoying, I know). Just follow the instructions here.

Protect Yourself

There are some basic measures you can take to help reduce your exposure to air pollution. Check with your doctor regarding health recommendations specific to your condition.

  1. Studies show that air pollution increases as you get close to major intersections, roads, and highways–particularly those that are frequently used by diesel trucks and busses. Try to plan the places where you work, live and play as far from these sources as possible. Even a block or two away from a major road can make a big difference.
  2. Purchase a reliable HEPA quality air filter (or make your own air filter). Run it all the time where you work and sleep.
  3. Wet mop and dust regularly with a microfiber dust cloth. Purchase and use a HEPA vacuum cleaner for cleaning at home. A non-HEPA vacuum cleaner just kicks up dust.
  4. Purchase a MERV-13 or higher rated air filter for your home furnace. (Warning – this upgrade may damage your HVAC system unless you check with a professional to be sure that your HVAC system can handle it.)
  5. Monitor your outside air with the apps and informational websites noted below. Avoid outdoor exercise during high pollution hours/days. In Pittsburgh, I often see high pollution levels during inversion events at night and in the early morning.
  6. Purchase one or more of the air sensors mentioned below. Use them to learn about your local air quality and decide for yourself when to open your windows and/or exercise outside.
  7. Purchase a P100 respirator and use it around the house and yard during dusty activities and also while biking in polluted areas/times.

Air Sensors

  • PurpleAir Monitor – This is currently my most favorite monitor of all. While it doesn’t measure VOC’s, it does a solid job of measuring particles. You can find that they are being purchased all around the world via their powerful map that is open to the public all the time. I am using both an indoor and outdoor PurpleAir monitor and can highly recommend them both. The pair helps me keep track of how well my whole-house 24×7 filtration system is working (that system, by the way, generally keeps particle levels to near zero micrograms/meter cubed unless the outdoor air rises above an AQI score of ~100 for more than a couple hours.
  • Awair Air Monitor – One of my favorite sensors for measuring volatile organic compounds. I keep one in front of my house and check it from my iPhone. (Full disclosure – the link included is a referral link. I get a few dollars if you buy one using the link.) My experience indicates that the original Awair device in the wooden box (not the cheaper Glow version) responds better to the types of air pollution that correlate with foul smelling days in Pittsburgh.
  • Dylos Air Monitor – Another favorite sensor of mine that focuses on ultra-fine particles in the 0.5 nanometer range. This sensor unfortunately does not connect with smartphones.

Smartphone Apps

  • SmellPGH App – My favorite air quality app. Ever. (highlighted in detail above)
  • Air Bubbles – A great app for checking basic air quality sensor data.

Informational Websites/Links

  • Breathe Project – HIGHLY recommended resource. From their website: “Breathe Project is a clearinghouse for information on air quality in Pittsburgh, Southwestern Pennsylvania and beyond. We use the best available science and technology to better understand the quality of the air we breathe and provide opportunities for citizens to engage and take action.” 
  • – A powerful tool developed by the CREATE Lab at CMU that combines air modeling information layered on top of SmellPGH reports, PurpleAir monitors, ACHD monitors, SO2 monitors, and VOC monitors in the region. Animations come out the next day, so not in real-time.
  • – Shows near real-time 24x7x365 video recordings of a variety of views of polluting industrial facilities in the region, including the Shell Plastics Plant, Clairton Coke Works, Edgar Thomson Mill, and Metalico.
  • GASP’s Plain Language Guide to Understanding Local Air Quality – A really handy explainer for anybody living in Allegheny County!
  • – Air quality site developed by the EPA that uses regional modeling to report current and future air conditions.
  • NWS Hourly Weather Forecast for Pittsburgh – This is where I gather local mixing height and wind direction information for Pittsburgh. I’ve found that when mixing height is below 300ft and wind direction is coming from the SSE towards Squirrel Hill, it is likely to stink. (Short link to share: )
  • Albert Presto published a very informative paper about the contents of the stinky plumes in Pittsburgh here.
  • The Allegheny County Health Department has released an excellent air quality dashboard of air quality information to show fine particulates, ozone, and sulfur dioxide (SO2) in Allegheny County:
  • The BreezoMeter website offers very detailed street-level air quality information. It appears to be quite accurate, though I haven’t done my own independent verification of this. Worth a look, particularly including the “Historical Air Quality Levels at Your Location” feature.

Entities Working on Air Issues

(listing does not necessarily imply affiliation with this Inversion Documentary)

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