The Post-Gazette can take care of itself, but the piece by Charles D. Connor of the American Lung Association ("Our Fair Rankings of Air Pollution," In Rebuttal, May 18) that took the editors to task for taking his 2009 annual State of the Air Study to task should not go unremarked. It is Exhibit A showing how special interest groups in their enthusiasms to "do good works" confuse people and impede progress.
The straw man Mr. Connor knocks down is average air quality. His organization ignores it, he says, because what kills people is the worst air on the worst day, not average air quality in Pittsburgh or anyplace else. No one is arguing with that, including the United States government, which reports such readings regularly accompanied, as appropriate, by citations for violation of the law.
The Pittsburgh Regional Indicators project has been publishing hourly readings on particulate matter from nine monitors in the region for 18 months. Our Web site www.pittsburghtoday.org, also provides data for 2004-2006 (2007 soon to be posted) that shows both average readings and worst readings for particulate matter from 19 monitors in each of those years.
Because the lung association and Mr. Connor want to attract the widest possible attention, they emphasize only the worst reading for the year from any monitor in each major American city. The result is that they feature a reading from the Liberty Borough monitor opposite the Clairton coke works, which regularly tops all highs in almost all of the United States, as well as our 18 other monitors. But the Liberty reading no more defines the quality of air that Pittsburghers breathe than would the 2008 murder rate or incidence of syphilis in Lawrenceville, North Braddock and Liberty Borough (home to the three Allegheny County monitors cited) define the incidence of those social ills for Allegheny County, let alone the larger region.
Special interest groups, in their determination to "tell it like it is," invariably prompt complaints about overstatement and simplification, losing in the process the important message, as in this instance: Pittsburgh's air compares unfavorably with national norms and is much worse than it should be.
JOHN G. CRAIG JR.
President, Pittsburgh Regional Indicators
The writer is the retired editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.