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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 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold public hearings for the Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule the week of July 28 in four locations across the U.S., including Pittsburgh. The hearings will provide interested parties the opportunity to present data, views or arguments concerning the proposed action.

 

Registration is already filled for the July 31 hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the William S. Moorhead Federal Building, Room 1310, 1000 Liberty Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh. EPA has extended the hearings for a second day to accommodate additional speakers. Click here to register for the August 1 hearing date.

 

The Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule was issued June 2 as a way to cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions

 

According to EPA, the proposal also will cut pollution that leads to soot and smog by over 25 percent in 2030. A recent study by Syracuse and Harvard universities shows western Pennsylvania could stand to benefit greatly in terms of estimated decrease in fine particulate matter due to cuts in carbon pollution output that would be mandated under the proposed rule.

 

The Clean Power Plan will lead to climate and health benefits worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion in 2030, including avoiding 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, federal estimates show.

 

For more information about the proposed rule, read the proposal and fact sheets from EPA.

 

 

Clean Water Action this week is hosting members of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York (CACWNY) to share their story of community effort to reduce harmful emissions from the Tonawanda Coke plant, an industrial facility with a heinous track record of air pollution violations.

 

At Pittsburgh events on July 17 and 18, you’ll be able to hear firsthand how the community in western New York banded together to win big cuts in the plant’s toxic benzene emissions. Their actions resulted in the largest fine ever levied in an air pollution case involving a federal criminal trial. You’ll also learn what you can do to get involved in the fight for clean air in Pittsburgh.

 

On Thursday, July 17 at 6:30 p.m., members of CACWNY will be visiting the Mon Valley to meet with residents there and to share their stories. The event will be held at the Liberty Borough fire hall at 900 Haslage Street.

 

A community breakfast and roundtable discussion with the CACWNY representatives will take place on July 18 from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at the Bellevue United Presbyterian Church at 457 Lincoln Street in Bellevue.

 

Click here for more information or to RSVP. Contact Cassi Steenblock at Clean Water Action with any questions at 412-765-3053 or csteenblock@cleanwater.org.

 

 

After a year of friendly, but intense competition, the winners of Sustainable Pittsburgh’s Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge were announced last night at an awards ceremony at Chatham University.

 

More than 100 forward-thinking businesses and organizations in our region took a total of 1,668 actions that resulted in improved energy efficiency and reduced water use as part of the challenge. Participants were required to measure and provide verification of their actions, earning points along the way. Actions cover a variety of topics, such as reducing energy and water use to working with employees to incorporate more carpooling or bike riding in their daily commutes.

 

The competition demonstrates how what’s good for our air is good for our economy, and the proof is in the numbers. From June 2013 to May 2014, Green Workplace Challenge participants saved 37.3 million kWh of energy, the equivalent of roughly 3,308 U.S. households’ annual electricity use worth more than $3 million.

 

This is approximately equal to the amount of energy used each year by homes in Friendship, Glen Hazel, Polish Hill, the Bluff and Regent Square combined. They also saved more than 5.4 million gallons of water on an annual basis–enough to turn Heinz Field into a wading pool of water 10 inches deep and the amount used by 57 typical U.S. households in a year.

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These tremendous energy and water savings translated into cleaner air in Pittsburgh — specifically a reduction in emissions of 2.7 tons of fine particulate matter; 22.6 tons of NOx (an air pollutant and precursor to ozone); 110,1 tons of sulfur dioxide; 960 tons of nitrous oxide (a potent greenhouse gas); and 1.65 pounds of toxic mercury.

 

Top scorers included Oxford Development Company (observer category); Conservation Consultants, Inc. (small nonprofit); ALCOSAN (medium nonprofit); University of Pittsburgh  (universities); Allegheny County (municipal and local government); Pashek Associates (small business); DMI Companies (medium business); and FedEx Ground (large business). Special awards were presented for the Top Energy Saver (Conservation Consultants, Inc., with a 22 percent reduction) and the Top Water Saver (ALCOSAN, with a 76 percent reduction).

 

“The organizations that have participated in the Green Workplace Challenge once again illustrate that each action to save resources contributes to a larger effort that makes a large impact–and our region moves along toward a more sustainable path with each and every effort,” said Matt Mehalik, program manager for Sustainable Pittsburgh.

 

Clean air kudos to all the winners and participants in the Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge. We celebrate your achievements and leadership, and look forward to what the next round of the competition will bring!

The Allegheny County Health Department is offering companies and municipalities in or around Neville Island the opportunity to upgrade their diesel fleets at little or no cost and help improve local air quality. The department has established a program supported by a $750,000 grant from the Allegheny County Clean Air Fund to reduce toxic diesel particulate emissions on Neville Island, a heavily industrialized area that is home to numerous diesel fleets.

 

The program provides up to 100 percent funding for diesel retrofits, which include the installation of particulate filters and oxidation catalysts. Retrofits work by filtering diesel equipment’s exhaust emissions and reducing harmful pollutants before they are emitted.

 

Up to 75 percent funding is available for diesel engine repowers and rebuilds. Repowering is the process of installing a newer, cleaner engine to replace an older one, which greatly extends the life of the equipment and dramatically reduces its emissions. Rebuilding is the process of restoring an engine to its original manufacturing standard or a more recent standard, thereby increasing fuel efficiency and reducing emissions.

 

Grants are available for both on-road and off-road diesel equipment. To be eligible, applicants must be headquartered on Neville Island or operate within an adjacent community.

 

For more information or to submit an application, visit www.achd.net/air/neville or contact Alaina Conner at aconner@achd.net or 412-578-8106.

When Sto-Rox High School science teacher Joe Krajcovic realized a diesel generator that powered a rooftop wireless tower was exhausting into his classroom, he knew it was a serious problem. He could smell the noxious odor of the diesel fumes on several occasions and grew concerned about potential health impacts to his students and fellow staff.

 
He was right to worry. Diesel exhaust is a complex mixture of thousands of gases and fine particles that contains dozens of toxic air contaminants, many of which are known or suspected to cause cancer like benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde. It also contains other harmful pollutants, including nitrogen oxides (a component of urban smog). As we breathe, diesel exhaust penetrates deep into the lungs, contributing to myriad immediate and long-term health effects—including lung disease, asthma attacks, cancer and even premature death.

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“Having a diesel generator exhausting this close to and into a school building creates unhealthy air and health risks for students, staff and administration and everyone in the building,” Krajcovic said.

 

The generator also bordered an athletic field, where student athletes take in disproportionately larger volumes of air (and any contaminants it contains) as they breathe more rapidly than usual during practice and games.

 
The school administration moved Krajcovic’s classroom away from the strong fumes, although no doubt the exhaust dissipated throughout the building. To help demonstrate the risk posed to the school by ongoing use of the diesel generator, Krajcovic then worked with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab and the Department of Mechanical Engineering to monitor air quality inside his classroom.

 
He used a low-cost particulate monitor called a Speck developed by the CREATE Lab for citizen science and exposure tracking. The device measures airborne particulates that are 2.5 microns in diameter—approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair.

 

Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 2.39.46 PM Over a period of 10 days in February, particle concentrations in Krajcovic’s classroom ranged between 6,000 and 30,000. In a room with acceptable indoor air quality, the particle count is typically between 50-250 particles.

 

“These readings were extremely high and presented very big health concerns that put students, staff and administration in the building at risk,” he said.

 
The highest readings occurred at times when the diesel generator was operating. Conversely, particle counts dropped off at times when the generator was shut down.

 
Krajcovic filed a grievance through his union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and presented his findings to the school board and administration. He then called Tom Hoffman, western Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, who talked about the health risks associated with diesel exhaust. A few days after the hearing, Krajcovic was told that his grievance was successful and the generator would be moved.

 

“This is good news for the students and staff at Sto-Rox High School, and I commend Mr. Krajcovic for taking the necessary steps to protect the health of those in the building, ” Hoffman said. “Every child deserves to breathe clean air at school and every teacher deserves the same in the workplace.”

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Clairton City School District is located in one of the most polluted airsheds in the United States.
 
In recognition of this challenge faced by their community, students participating in the CASTLE (Clairton’s After School Teaching and Learning Experienceprogram have been studying air quality and how it pertains to their local history, environment and health through hands-on, experiential learning. The Consortium for Public Education administers the three-year program with the support of a number of area partners, including Sense of Place Learning under the leadership of educator Paula Purnell.

 
Throughout the academic year, the CASTLE students worked with Spring Hill-based artist Ian Green to create a mural that depicts their thoughts and beliefs about air pollution and how it impacts their lives, families and the Clairton community at large. The colorful–and powerful–mural was unveiled this past Wednesday during an end-of-year celebration for the program.
 

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“The goal of the mural project was to create an impactful visual that students, teachers and community members could use to learn about and discuss issues surrounding the local air quality,” Purnell said. “I am so impressed with how Ian pulled ideas and images from the kids and melded them with his artwork to create a mural that is dense with meaning.”
 
Green asked the middle- and high-school students to brainstorm what the different colored bins of the Air Quality Index (AQI) meant to them in both pictures and words. He then transformed the student’s individual works into a single composition in the form of a mural that shows the progression from clean air to dirty air along the color spectrum of the AQI.
 
“I wanted the classes to generate as much content as possible for the mural and for the kids to see how their input can impact a bigger picture,” Green said.
 
The AQI is a color-coded air pollution health risk messaging tool used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Green indicates satisfactory air quality that poses little health risk, according to EPA. Yellow signals moderate health concern, and orange means unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children, the elderly and people with lung disease. Red announces unhealthy air for everyone, while purple AQI means the air quality is very poor and all outdoor activity should be avoided.
 
Accordingly, the green–or clean air–section of the mural depicts healthy children playing under blossoming trees in a flower-filled field. As air quality quickly deteriorates thanks to factories and traffic, the yellow, orange and red AQI parts of the mural show dead trees and young people armed with inhalers and struggling to breathe. “Everyone in this school knows how to draw an inhaler,” Green said. Viewers are warned by images of gravestones and a barren landscape to “stay home” in the purple AQI end of the spectrum.
 
Funding for the mural came in part from The Pittsburgh Foundation’s New Voices of Youth program, an online grant contest that challenged young people in the Pittsburgh area to develop ideas for projects to help improve air quality in our region in connection with area nonprofits.
 
And with support of the Breathe Project, Green also has created a coloring book titled “Trees Are Like Lungs: The Air Quality Index Illustrated” that contains loose sheets with line drawings from the mural that children can color and then piece together to recreate their own personal version of the artwork. “It’s a way to bring the issue to the attention of people who may not see the mural hanging in the school,” he said.
 
“I can easily imagine teachers using the drawings as writing prompts and early childhood teachers taking classes to explore ideas through visuals,” Purnell adds. “I hope it will be a resource for many years to come.”
 
The CASTLE students also have been working with Group Against Smog and Pollution to implement the EPA’s School Flag Program. Each morning, student volunteers at Clairton visit the website www.airnow.gov, check their local air quality and hoist a brightly colored flag up the school’s flagpole indicating the air quality for that day. With the help of Grow Pittsburgh, they created a vegetable garden on school grounds and learned bike skills through MGR Youth Empowerment.

2014 is the year of the bicycle in Millvale.

 

This movement to create a more bike-friendly community—that produces less air pollution—received a jumpstart recently thanks to a $2,500 grant from The Pittsburgh Foundation’s New Voices of Youth program. The online grant contest challenged young people in the Pittsburgh area to develop ideas for projects to help improve air quality in our region in connection with area nonprofits.

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Working with the Millvale Community Library, local high school students came up with a plan for a series of small changes in Millvale that would work together to help raise awareness and improve air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania, focusing on alternative transportation and youth engagement.

 

First, through New Voices of Youth, the students received funding to install five bike racks outside the library. The metal bike racks were designed by Millvale-based graphic designer Tom Walker and built by Geoff Blanchard of Red Star Ironworks, also in the borough. The circular design shows open books of shrinking size nested inside each other.

 

“What’s really fun is that within a two-block radius, you had kids creating ideas and solutions, a professional graphic designer who can take those ideas and turn them into an image, and a metal fabricator who can create and install the finished product,” says longtime Millvale resident Brian Wolovich, who is president and co-founder of the Millvale Community Library.

 

Millvale is adjacent to, but not directly connected to the heavily traveled Three Rivers Heritage Trail. Providing a visible place for bicycle parking in the borough itself will help encourage people to ride their bikes in Millvale and use the popular trail artery linking them to the North Side and Downtown. Adding bike infrastructure in the community will also help make Millvale a safer and easier place to get around without a car—and help clean our air, according to Wolovich.

 

“We are trying to create a safe place for bicycling,” Wolovich says. “And as more people use these alternative modes of transportation, there will be less smog and particulates.”

 

The bike racks are becoming iconic of the changes underway in Millvale, where there’s a bigger plan in the works to make sustainability the “calling card” for the revitalization of this post-industrial river town. Even local legend Rick Sebak recently took notice, tweeting about the bike racks in a recent visit to Millvale.

 

New Voices of Youth funding also was used to help with youth volunteer recruitment for a tree planting initiative in Millvale in partnership with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and TreeVitalize. More than 100 people came together this spring to plant 125 large street trees in Downtown Millvale. In addition, a bike safety event is being planned for the annual Millvale Days community celebration in the fall.

The Allegheny County Health Department will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, July 1 at 10 a.m. in the first floor conference room at Building #7 of the Clack Health Center, 301 39th Street, Lawrenceville, to take testimony on proposed modifications to the county’s open burning regulations.

 

The following proposed changes will be incorporated as a revision to Allegheny County’s portion of the Pennsylvania State Implementation Plan:

 

1) No material other than clean wood may be burned, except for charcoal, propane or natural gas in an outdoor fireplace or grill for cooking; commercially available fire logs, paraffin logs or wood pellets in outdoor fireplaces; and paper or commercial smokeless fire starters. This applies to chimineas and fire pits, too.

2) The volume of the clean wood pile can’t exceed 3 feet wide by 3 feet long by 2 feet high.

3) “Burn piles” must be at least 15 feet away from the nearest neighbor’s dwelling or inhabited area, any property line, roadway, sidewalk or public access way.

4) Open burning for warmth for outside workers may be conducted only in temperatures below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, with only one contained open burn per work crew in a container no larger than a 55 gallon drum. It must meet setback and material requirements above.

5) Wood burning is prohibited on Air Quality Action Days except for the commercial preparation of food or the provision of warmth for outside workers. Open burning activities requiring a permit won’t be allowed on these days, either.

6) The Allegheny County Health Department can prohibit or reduce any open burning activity that it determines to be a nuisance (i.e., severity of air pollutants or malodor; duration/frequency of burning; topography of surroundings; and meteorological conditions).
 
You can review copies of the proposed regulatory amendments here: http://www.achd.net/air/publichearing2014/070114_Proposed_Open_Burning_Regulation_rev.pdf

 
Oral testimony must be pre-scheduled by calling 412-578-8120 no less than 24 hours in advance of the public hearing. Speakers will be limited to five minutes and should bring a written copy of their comments.

 

The Board will accept written testimony beginning Friday, May 30 and ending Monday, July 7 by mail to: Allegheny County Health Department, 301 39th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201-1891 or by e-mail to: aqcomments@achd.net.

Nearly 150 health professionals, civic leaders, parents, environmental advocates, teachers and community members gathered on May 16 to talk about the impact of Pittsburgh’s air quality relative to the high prevalence of asthma in our region.
 
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Summit highlights poor control of asthma here
Pittsburgh Business Times: Pittsburgh air quality still a problem, UPMC doctor says
90.5 FM WESA: Asthma in the region examined in summit for World Asthma Month

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