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Students in 10 southwestern Pennsylvania counties have the opportunity to show how they could help improve the region’s air quality by participating in the 5th Annual “Let’s Clear the Air Poster Challenge” sponsored by the Southwest Pennsylvania Air Quality Partnership and Pennsylvania Resources Council.
 
All schools in southwestern Pennsylvania (Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington, Westmoreland, and new this year, Greene, Indiana and Lawrence counties) are invited to participate. The topic of the competition will be promoting clean air and alternative transportation.
 
The contest will involve students in grades 4–12 at public, parochial and private schools. Students will learn about ground-level ozone, energy conservation, ways to avoid exposure to air pollution and other topics.
 
In the spring, the winning posters will be displayed at local venues including shopping malls, hospitals and government buildings, as well as posted online. Top winners from each category will win a bicycle, a $100 gift certificate for their teachers to a school supply story and an Air Quality Magic Show assembly for the school.
 
For more information call PRC at 412-773-7156 or visit www.prc.org/posterchallenge.html.
 
Last year, more than 3,500 students attending 48 area schools participated in the poster contest.

GWC-2013-logo-color
The Green Workplace Challenge is back again for another year of exciting competition! If you work for a business, nonprofit, college or university, local government, or a K-12 school in southwestern Pennsylvania, sign up today to start saving money and gaining recognition for energy savings and other green initiatives that add up to cleaner air in the Pittsburgh region.
 
The GWC is a free competition for organizations to track and measure performance in the areas of energy, water, waste and transportation. Every action adds up to big impact. Since 2011, for example, participants saved $7.4 million in energy and enough water to fill Heinz Field 13 feet deep!
 
Everyone is invited to attend the GWC kickoff event on October 29 at Phipps Conservatory. Register at www.gwcpgh.org. The deadline to sign up for the competition is January 31, 2015.

Pennsylvania’s most polluting biomass energy facilities are identified in an online map and searchable database released today by the Partnership for Policy Integrity. Funded by The Heinz Endowments, the database provides information on pollution emissions, pollution controls and permit renewal dates for companies burning wood or other biomass for fuel. The database and a report summarizing its findings are available at http://www.pfpi.net/bioenergy-in-pennsylvania.
 
“Biomass continues to be subsidized and promoted in Pennsylvania as so-called ‘clean’ energy, while the reality is that biomass burners can emit as much soot, toxins and other air pollutants into local communities as a similarly sized coal-fired burner,” said Mary Booth, director of PFPI and the author of the report. “There is no better time than ‘National Bioenergy Day’ (October 22) for people to learn the extent to which taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this highly polluting industry.”
 
The database contains information on more than 100 air permits for biomass energy and wood pellet manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania. Many of the facilities in the database are sawmills and other wood manufacturing facilities with biomass boilers that are allowed to emit as much or more air pollution as a same-sized coal- or oil-fired boiler.
 
The report includes information on the more than $69 million in federal and state subsidies and loans that was allocated in recent years for biomass-burning and wood pellet manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania. The investigation found that of 38 companies that received support, 19 either no longer exist or have not yet received an operating permit. It is not clear what happened to the funding in these cases.
 
The PFPI report found that almost all biomass burners installed in recent years, including those at businesses, schools, and other institutions that have received grants and loans from the State, have permits that allow them to emit as much pollution as the older industrial biomass burners. Many are located in counties that currently do not meet air quality standards for particulate matter and ozone, and which have elevated rates of asthma in school-age children. Economic modeling highlighted in the report shows that each additional ton of particulate matter pollution emitted by these poorly controlled facilities can impose hundreds of thousands of dollars in health and environmental costs, with financial impacts greatest in counties that already have degraded air quality.
 
“These results tell a dismal story about Pennsylvania air permitting and the lax standards that allow even small biomass burners to be very polluting,” Booth said. “Adding to the problem, the state is subsidizing highly polluting biomass burners to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, even in counties where air pollution is already bad. Subsidizing this polluting technology is a waste of public funds, but if the state continues to award such grants, it should at least require facilities to reduce their toxic emissions.”
 
The PFPI report links to guidance from an allied environmental group, Pennsylvania’s Clean Air Council, that helps citizens comment on air permits to the Pennsylvania DEP. The Council has done extensive legal work to reduce pollution from commercial and residential wood-burning.
 
“The adverse health impacts of wood smoke are significant,” said Joseph Otis Minott, executive director of Clean Air Council. “The PFPI database is a great tool that impacted residents can use to take action in their community to protect their air quality.”
 

Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of certain air toxics during their mothers’ pregnancies and the first two years of life compared to children without the condition, according to the preliminary findings of a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health investigation of children in southwestern Pennsylvania.
 
This research, funded by The Heinz Endowments, will be presented today at the American Association for Aerosol Research annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.
 
“Autism spectrum disorders are a major public health problem, and their prevalence has increased dramatically,” said Evelyn Talbott, Dr.P.H., principal investigator of the analysis and professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health. “Despite its serious social impact, the causes of autism are poorly understood. Very few studies of autism have included environmental exposures while taking into account other personal and behavioral risk factors. Our analysis is an addition to the small but growing body of research that considers air toxics as one of the risk factors for ASD.”
 
Dr. Talbott and her colleagues performed a population-based study of families with and without ASD living in six southwestern Pennsylvania counties. The researchers found links between increased levels of chromium and styrene and childhood autism spectrum disorder, a condition that affects one in 68 children.
 
“This study brings us a step closer toward understanding why autism affects so many families in the Pittsburgh region and nationwide – and reinforces in sobering detail that air quality matters,” said Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments. “Our aspirations for truly becoming the most livable city cannot be realized if our children’s health is threatened by dangerous levels of air toxics. Addressing this issue must remain one of our region’s top priorities.”
 
Autism spectrum disorders are a range of conditions characterized by social deficits and communication difficulties that typically become apparent early in childhood. Reported cases of ASD have risen nearly eight-fold in the last two decades. While previous studies have shown the increase to be partially due to changes in diagnostic practices and greater public awareness of autism, this does not fully explain the increased prevalence. Both genetic and environmental factors are believed to be partially responsible.
 
Dr. Talbott and her team interviewed 217 families of children with ASD and compared these findings with information from two separate sets of comparison families of children without ASD born during the same time period within the six-county area. The families lived in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties, and the children were born between 2005 and 2009.
 
One of the strengths of the study was the ability to have “two types of controls, which provided a comparison of representative air toxics in neighborhoods of those children with and without ASD,” said Dr. Talbott.
 
For each family, the team used the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) to estimate the exposure to 30 pollutants known to cause endocrine disruption or neurodevelopmental issues. NATA is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ongoing comprehensive evaluation of air toxics in the U.S., most recently conducted in 2005.
 
Based on the child’s exposure to concentrations of air toxics during the mother’s pregnancy and the first two years of life, the researchers noted that children who fell into higher exposure groups to styrene and chromium were at a 1.4- to two-fold greater risk of ASD, after accounting for the age of the mother, maternal cigarette smoking, race and education. Other NATA compounds associated with increased risk included cyanide, methylene chloride, methanol and arsenic. As these compounds often are found in combination with each other, further study is needed.
 
Styrene is used in the production of plastics and paints, but also is one of the products of combustion when burning gasoline in vehicles. Chromium is a heavy metal, and air pollution containing it typically is the result of industrial processes and the hardening of steel, but it also can come from power plants. Cyanide, methylene chloride, methanol and arsenic are all used in a number of industries or can be found in vehicle exhaust.
 
“Our results add to the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures, such as air pollution, to ASD,” said Dr. Talbott. “The next step will be confirming our findings with studies that measure the specific exposure to air pollutants at an individual level to verify these EPA-modeled estimates.”

 
Most Pittsburgh house tours showcase beautiful interiors, tasteful design, and the glitz and glamour of bygone eras. The 2014 Pittsburgh Solar Tour is a home tour for the new Pittsburgh.
 
SOLAR_PGHtour2014_Goerman_150x150Join PennFuture to experience raw solar power, energy efficiency that saves real dollars, and gasoline-free transportation ideas. Along the way, meet homeowners who believe how their property operates is as important as how it looks.
 
The tour sites will be open on Saturday, October 18, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The self-guided event is free, but please register.
 
This year’s event has five featured tour sites. These locations are all solar-powered, but have a little extra for you to take in, including two American Institute of Architects award-winning homes, an urban homestead (complete with green roof and edible landscaping, Pittsburgh’s largest residential solar installation with a solar 101 seminar in the living room, and a solar-powered library with solar activities for kids and big plans for solar expansion.
 
You’ll also find a listing of solar open houses—these locations include solar homes and businesses with folks on site who will be thrilled to share their experiences with solar energy.
 
The tour is sponsored by Breathe Project coalition member Levin Furniture, whose Monroeville showroom has been powered by solar energy since 2004. Stop by their store—it’s on the tour!

 
How can Pittsburgh be a leader in building the bridge from our fossil fuel-based economy to an economy based on renewable energy and sustainable living?
 
Filmmaker and journalist Kirsi Jansa asks this question–arguably the most critical challenge of our time–about energy transition in her new series of short documentaries called “Sustainability Pioneers.” Jansa was the producer of “Gas Rush Stories,” short documentaries on shale gas exploration, and she continues on her mission to give a human face to our energy policy and energy legacy.
 
Sustainability Pioneers” is funded by The Heinz Endowments and The Fisher Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation. It is produced in collaboration with The Institute for Green Science at Carnegie Mellon University.
 
The premiere of Sustainability Pioneers will take place at the Mellon Institute Auditorium at Carnegie Mellon on Tuesday, October 7 from 7-9 p.m. It will be followed by a presentation “Bridging to a Fossil Free Future” by Rachel Carson scholar and energy consultant Patricia DeMarco.
 
Another screening will follow on Wednesday, October 8 at Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Melwood Screening Room at 477 Melwood Avenue in Oakland from 7-9 p.m. It will be followed by a panel discussion “How to Begin Energy Transition” featuring DeMarco; Grant Ervin, sustainability manager for the City of Pittsburgh; Hal Saville, energy project consultant at Independent Energy Solutions; and “solar citizen” Fred Kraybill.

 
For the third presentation in the series “Climate Change Here and Now,” scientist Ellis Robinson will investigate the origins and effects of atmospheric particles—unavoidable byproducts of the way our society creates and uses energy.
 
Robinson is a recent graduate of the doctoral program in chemistry and mechanical engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, as well as co-creater, producer and host of the science podcast “I Wonder.” He is a Science & Engineering Ambassador, a program of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering that aims to connect opinion leaders with local experts, building relationships at the community level on the topic of energy.
 
Often invisible to the naked eye, we notice the presence of atmospheric particles on hazy days or as smoke from a fire. But their impacts are felt far and wide, especially in southwestern Pennsylvania. Average levels of fine particle pollution in the Pittsburgh area rank in the worst 10 percent of monitored cities in the United States, according to analysis by the Clean Air Task Force. Particle pollution has been linked to wide-ranging health impacts, such as asthma, heart and lung disease, cancer, adverse birth outcomes and premature death.
 
Ellis will give a broad overview of the global significance of atmospheric particles and then focus on his research at Carnegie Mellon, where laboratory and field experiments (including research on the impact of wildfires) have begun to chip away at unsolved questions about how they form and evolve.
 
The event will take place on Tuesday, October 7 at 6 p.m. at Bar Marco’s Union Hall, 2216 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh PA 15222.
 
Please RSVP by October 5.

A local company that offers state-of-the-art products for indoor air systems is doing its part to help improve our region’s outdoor air quality.

 

Watch the video herehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GCxasRQXtjc&list=UUopqc-QvhUkCLWLhDbcV_iA

 

DMI Companies has made sustainability a priority ever since its flagship company, Ductmate Industries, was founded in 1978. From inception, Ductmate’s DM35 flange introduced a level of efficiency that revolutionized the heating, ventilation and air conditioning field. The fledgling company took its duct flange—which decreased leakage in duct systems by 95 percent—and made it a model for sustainable business practices.

 

Today, DMI’s first-place finish in the medium business category of the 2013-2014 Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge continues the company’s green legacy. “We like to say our DNA is green,” CEO Ray Yeager says.
In 2004, DMI refurbished the First National Bank building in Charleroi, Washington County, turning the century-old building a model of efficiency and earning it historic landmark status. The finished corporate headquarters for DMI is a blend of antique fixtures—including the original crank elevator, security vaults and teller stations—and modern amenities.

 

For company owner Peter Arnoldt II, it was a point of pride that the office be both world-class and sustainable. The 26,000-square-foot space has a somewhat complex internal HVAC arrangement with six air handling systems; however, the office temperature is kept within one degree on all floors to control occupancy comfort and energy expenditure.

 

Following the advice of several internal energy audits, DMI refit the building’s windows, replaced incandescent light bulbs with fluorescent fixtures, eliminated space heaters and installed low-flow toilets and faucet aerators in bathrooms, among other efficiency measures.

 

The building draws energy from an array of tube-shaped solar panels on the recently retrofitted “green” roof. The whitewashed roof surface absorbs less heat than the dark materials from the previous roof and also reflects sunlight onto the solar panels, enabling their tube shape to absorb energy from all angles. These changes consistently earn the DMI headquarters an Energy Star score above 87—meaning it is more efficient than 87 percent of similar buildings.

 

Since 2007, overall energy consumed dropped in the office from 1.6 million kBtu—a combined measurement of natural gas and electricity use—to 1.25 million kBtu.

 

“We’ve worked to achieve such a high conservation and efficiency level that, in comparison to the average, we’re a bit ahead of the curve,” Arnoldt says.

 

Another lighting retrofit across the river at DMI’s Monongahela production facilities has reduced DMI’s energy consumption by 12 to 15 percent over the past two years at that location.

 

In addition to green infrastructure, DMI also encourages its employees to adopt practices in the workplace and at home that help contribute to cleaner air. Employees earn points in a yearly competition by making green choices, such as recycling, driving a hybrid car, and using washable dishware and reusable grocery bags. An annual awards luncheon recognizes top earners and features a raffle of prizes such as rain barrels, compost bins and gift cards to local sustainable restaurants.

 

Arnoldt describes DMI’s objectives as a triple bottom line approach that considers how a policy benefits the planet, people and the company’s profit.

 

“In the end, it’s the profits that are the most important,” he says. “If you don’t continue to focus on the profits…you’re not going to be in business very long to do the feel-good, warm and fuzzy initiatives that help out the people and the planet.”

 

Green initiatives approached responsibly always save money, according to Yeager, though they may require time and money to perfect. “If you do a return on investment analysis, which we do on all our projects, it is in fact a cost-savings in almost every case,” he says.

 

By Allison Keene, The Heinz Endowments Communications Intern

Save the date and start logging those training miles! The Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) second annual Clean Air Dash 5K on the South Side’s Three Rivers Heritage Trail will be here before you know it. The fast, flat and fun 5K will celebrate the progress our region has made in cleaning our air—and encourage us to keep fighting because the work isn’t finished yet.

 

The race will take place on Sunday, October 5 at 8:30 a.m. It is being sponsored by the Breathe Project and University of Pittsburgh. Early bird registration is open already! Contact GASP at info@gasp-pgh.org for more details or if your business or organization is interested in also being a race sponsor (Photos below courtesy of Joshua Franzos Photography).

 

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The Allegheny County Health Department is offering county residents cash incentives to once again dispose of old wood stoves and outdoor wood-fired boilers that do not meet current national emissions standards. The collection event will be held on Saturday, September 27 from 1 to 4 p.m. at Boyce Park in Monroeville at the wave pool parking lot off Old Frankstown Road.

 

The health department is offering a $500 cash incentive for non-Phase II outdoor wood-fired boilers and a $200 gift card for uncertified wood stoves. The bounties will be offered for up to five outdoor wood-fired boilers and 200 wood stoves. The gift cards are for Home Depot, Kmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, GetGo and Giant Eagle.

 

The program is for Allegheny County residents, and participants must register in advance by calling 412-578-8106 or visiting www.achd.net/air/bounty before September 25.

 

Stoves and boilers will be processed by Tube City IMS at its recycling center in West Mifflin. Two previous collection events yielded 129 wood stoves and one outdoor wood-fired boiler, helping to reduce harmful emissions from woodsmoke, which represents roughly 20 percent of the fine particle pollution in Allegheny County.

 

The bounty program is supported by a $75,000 grant from the Allegheny County Clean Air Fund.

 

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