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Will Pittsburgh forget the lessons learned from its toxic past in writing the next chapter for its future?

 

Several organizations concerned about the region’s air quality, environment and future have come together to present a multimedia exhibition that draws on the parallels of the environmental degradation of Louisiana’s “Cancer Alley” and that region’s reputation for having one of the highest rates of cancer in the country and petrochemical development in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Allegheny County ranks third worst out of all 3200 counties nationally for cancer risk due to point source pollution. What happens when a new health-impacting industry adds to this heavy burden?

 

This exhibition draws on the book “Petrochemical America” by Richard Misrach and Kate Orff (New York: Aperture, 2012) and Petrochemical America: Project Room, an exhibition held at Aperture Foundation in New York City in 2012. The exhibit pairs the drawings of landscape architect Kate Orff of SCAPE Studio with images from the Photographers of the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project, audio recorded by Public Herald and a selection of documentary films to relate a unique narrative of the people who live in the midst of this polluting industry. CREATE Lab has created an interactive visualization of the EPA’s National Air Toxics Assessment Toxic Release Inventory for public exploration. The visualization will make tangible the breadth and scale of toxic chemicals and will highlight known carcinogens from industrial sources in the U.S.

 

This show is curated by Sophie Riedel in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, Clean Air Council, Beaver County Marcellus Shale Awareness Committee and PennFuture through the Air Quality Collaborative.

 

The two-week exhibit will open in downtown Pittsburgh’s SPACE gallery, Sept. 27-Oct. 7, and move to the Beaver Station Cultural & Event Center for a second showing Oct. 16-20. Three events are planned in Pittsburgh and one is planned in Beaver, Pa.

 

RSVP: https://petrochemicalamericaaqc.eventbrite.com/

 

Opening Reception with Wilma Subra
September 27 – 5:00 to 8:00 pm

 

Regional Visioning Session. Elected officials and the public are invited to a conversation around a healthier economic future.
October 4 – 3:30 to 6:00 pm

 

Closing Reception with Gena Wirth of SCAPE Studio
Bus Tour of the Petrochemical Plant in Potter Township

October 7 – 5:30 – 8:00 pm

 

Opening Cocktail Reception with Sandra Steingraber
Beaver Station Cultural & Events Center

October 16

 

Petrochemical America hopes to engage citizens of SWPA and ignite a deeper conversation and actions around our right to clean air and water in Pennsylvania. This show is curated by Sophie Riedel in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, Clean Air Council, Beaver County Marcellus Shale Awareness Committee and PennFuture through the Air Quality Collaborative.

 
Photo: From Pipe to Plastic Bag, Petrochemical America by Richard Misrach and Kate Orff.

 
“GASP for Clean Air! Sources, Symptoms, and Solutions” is an art exhibit put on by GASP and hosted at Assemble throughout August 2017. This family-friendly exhibit focuses on air quality issues impacting Southwestern PA and what they mean for the people who live here. Through a variety of interactive installations, the exhibit addresses how air quality interacts with environmental justice, human health, and life in an increasingly industrialized world.

 

Join GASP for the Air Fair on August 10. Explore the art exhibit while snacking on free “air pollution desserts,” courtesy of Shelby Brewster, from the University of Pittsburgh. Meet representatives from organizations invested in our region’s air quality, and learn what these groups are doing to better the air we breathe and how you can play a role.

 

GASP Air Fair
August 10, 2017 from 6-8:00 p.m.
Location: Assemble, 4824 Penn Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15224

 

RSVP now.

 

Question?  Contact Chelsea at chelsea@gasp-pgh.org to learn more.

Join Climate Reality for their Leadership Corps training and work with former US Vice President Al Gore and renowned climate scientists and communicators to learn about what’s happening to our planet and how you can use social media, powerful storytelling, and personal outreach to inspire audiences to take action.

 

October 17 – 19, 2017
Pittsburgh, Pa.

 

Apply now to participate!

 

By Emily Collins
Executive Director and Managing Attorney,
Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services

 

“The law is reason,” Aristotle said, “free from passion.”

 

At Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services, those concepts — law, reason, free, and passion — often work together, but not necessarily in ways Aristotle suggested. Yes, we often have to prune the passion of our clients, focusing on reason and law to guide our counsel. But “free” has another meaning for us: We charge our clients on a sliding scale, so legal services for many of our cases are, indeed, free.

 

Also, Aristotle’s characterization of law is missing a crucial component: access. That’s what we do at Fair Shake. We provide access to those who often cannot get (or cannot afford) a fair hearing of their case. As part of our incubator model, we train less-experienced lawyers on environmental issues. These Resident Attorneys learn how to use both out-of-court negotiation and the full weight of the judicial system to secure justice for our clients.

 

I started Fair Shake in 2013, with the generous help from The Heinz Endowments, the Colcom Foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation, and the George Gund Foundation. At the time, ours was a novel approach of both providing low-cost legal services and serving as an incubator to train attorneys in environmental law so they could open their own practices. Back then, there were fewer than two dozen law incubators of any kind operating in the U.S.; since 2013, the number has tripled. While it’s difficult to know what influence those first incubators had on this sudden expansion, it’s clear that the training models are taking hold.

 

Despite the growth in incubators, Fair Shake remains unique as the only nonprofit environmental firm with a residency program that’s geared toward modest-means clients. We also are the first law firm in the country with training model that uses a nonprofit, scaled-fee structure. We believe that our sliding-scale approach will give lawyers the skills to increase access to environmental and social justice by providing them with both practice and business models.

 

Fair Shake has offices in Pittsburgh and Akron that provide legal services to individuals and organizations, local governments and businesses, some of whom would otherwise have difficulty affording legal counsel. Our staff includes two supervising attorneys, a communications and development director, and four lawyers who serve two- or three-year residencies before establishing their own offices. We often work in underserved rural communities, but also address urban environmental challenges, such as land use planning, business development, sewer problems and air quality issues.

 

In Pennsylvania, we’re a member of the Pittsburgh region’s Air Quality Collaborative (AQC), and some of our activities intersect with those of other Collaborative members. We represented the Clean Air Council in examining questions raised by plans for the new Shell Appalachia petrochemical “cracker” plant in Beaver County, northwest of Pittsburgh. CAC and Fair Shake focused on township-level issues that most affected local residents: air, noise and traffic. We interviewed witnesses and reviewed evidence, arguing for stricter controls. As a result, local supervisors promised tighter enforcement before issuing the local permit. The cracker plant remains a high priority, because many believe the implications for this massive operation will be felt for decades in that area and possibly downwind, too, into other areas.

 

We provided another AQC member, Allegheny County Clean Air Now (ACCAN), with legal support to fight the now-shuttered Shenango Coke Works on Neville Island, west of Pittsburgh. While the plant itself shut down last year, there remain significant questions regarding the future of the site.

 

As our Resident Attorneys go through our program, we expect to see more and more air and water quality issues being addressed. These include some individual cases that might not catch the attention of watchdog groups or government authorities. Instead, they have to be addressed directly by the people affected – and probably will not make headlines.

 

For example, we helped Gillian Graber, who lives in a county east of Pittsburgh, file an air quality citizen lawsuit to prevent her neighbors from continuing to burn wood their outdoor wood-fired stove, which was affecting her children’s asthma. Graber also used an air monitor from GASP — Group Against Smog and Pollution — to take readings of the pollutants entering her home to demonstrate the level of harm. The lawsuit was successful in getting the neighbors to stop, and exemplified how local residents can use citizen suits that allow them to have a role in enforcing air quality and other environmental laws rather than relying only on nonprofit groups to do the work.

 

In another case, Larry Oswald, who lives in one of Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs, faced charges of violating a municipal yard ordinance because he was growing a “natural yard,” consisting of edible plants, wildflowers and different grass varieties, to provide better habitat for bees and increase stormwater infiltration. The municipality fined him hundreds of dollars and attempted to force him to convert his yard into a uniform grass lawn. Although Oswald represented himself, which is common with yard ordinance violations, we assisted him in his defense in both magistrate and county court. We directed him to exceptions in the municipal ordinance, and we hired a plant biologist to testify to the benefits of a natural yard. Not only was Oswald eventually found not guilty, but our approach could be a model for other homeowners in municipal cases.

 

These are just a few examples of the range of Fair Shake’s services. For environmental issues large and small, we want to promote public health, clean water, clean air, and fair land use by working directly with the individuals affected. None of that happens without the first step: providing access to justice — not only for some but for all. By making access possible, air quality and other environmental issues in the region can be addressed by the people who live, work and play in local communities.

 

For more information about Fair Shake, find us at www.fairshake-els.org or contact us at our Pittsburgh office by calling (412) 742-4615.

 

The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer, who is responsible for its content.

 

Celebrate the first youth designed exhibit at the Senator John Heinz History Center. The Opening Celebration will showcase an art installation crafted by cohorts of high school learners from seven area schools. The students spent several months exploring the 1940s Smoke Control Campaign, current air quality concerns, and social change strategies. The installation will feature archival sources remixed by the students to make a statement about change and the future of Pittsburgh.

 

May 22, 2017, 5:00 pm – 7:00 pm
Senator John Heinz History Center

 

Admission is FREE, but you need to register.

Estimates and 25-year trends of the global burden of disease attributable to ambient air pollution: an analysis of data from the Global Burden of Diseases Study 2015

 

A new report by the Global Burden of Disease team estimates that outdoor fine particulates (PM2.5) was the fifth leading cause of death globally in 2015 – that’s an estimated 4.2 million deaths! In the United States, PM pollution was the sixth leading cause of death, resulting in approximately 88,000 deaths in 2015. Particulate exposure also negatively impacts a large number of chronic health conditions. The good news is that this burden of disease could be lowered for entire populations through policy action at the national and subnational levels, and would lead to increased life expectancy in a short timeframe. Policy action would really impact the health of Pittsburgh’s citizens because we have one of the highest average PM concentrations in the nation.

 

Explore the full report here with full text, tables and figures, references and supplementary materials.

 

Download the PDF here.

In a recent blog post on the national Foundation Center’s GrantCraft website, Heinz Endowments Environment & Health Program Director Philip Johnson describes how the foundation has responded to Pittsburgh’s environmental challenges by supporting the development of low-cost technologies that residents, educators, advocacy groups and policymakers can use to learn about surrounding conditions. Having environment data that is relevant, engaging and available to all helps Pittsburgh in becoming a more equitable, just and sustainable city.

 

 

Making the Connection Series: Physical Activity, Air Pollution and Asthma in the Urban Environment.

 

Dr. Stephanie Lovinsky-Desir will discuss her research and afterwards there will be a panel of health and community experts to respond to her presentation. Networking and refreshments will be from 5pm – 6pm in the Hutchinson and Hayashi Auditorium.

 

Registration is $5 per person. Please sign up online before attending.

 

Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC
May 3, 2017
5:00pm – 8:00pm

 

The People’s Climate March Pittsburgh will take place in tandem with the march on Washington D.C. from 10 a.m. to noon. Join fellow Pittsburghers in marching for our air, water and land along with clean energy jobs and climate justice.

 

April 29, 2017
10:00 am – 12:00 pm
Cathedral of Learning
4200 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15260

 

More information.

 

Learn about the Green Building Association’s progress in Downtown and Oakland toward achieving emission reduction goals.

 

April 25, 2017
4-7:00 pm
Heinz History Center

 

Registration required.

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