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Today, the State Department of Environmental Resources has issued a “code orange” alert.  The air quality index is expected to enter the range of 101 to 150 for Pittsburgh, the Liberty-Clairton area in southeastern Allegheny County, and Indiana County.  This level of pollution puts young children, the elderly and people with respiratory problems in danger.
 
Click on the link above to watch a short video clip to see what a code orange day in Pittsburgh looks like.
 
Read more about this alert in today’s Post Gazette.

Did you see John Graham’s Op-Ed in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette last week? If not, click here. John, who is a senior scientist with the Clean Air Task Force, studies air quality here in Western PA.

 

ALA

A screenshot of the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2015 report. Pittsburgh ranks in the top 10 for high levels of very small particles in the air. These particles can cause health problems.

The American Lung Association recently released their rankings of air quality nationwide. We are still in the top 10 for worst daily and yearly PM2.5 readings, even though we have been improving.

 

After the PG and others took the American Lung Association to task for basing their rankings on one monitor in our area, John said, hang on. Yes, that one monitor, the Liberty-Clairton monitor, gives really bad readings, but it’s not the only one.

 

Pittsburgh’s air is bad. Most of our monitors give readings in the bottom one-third of air quality in the nation. Think about it. Six hundred monitors nation wide. Two hundred in the bottom one-third. Most of Western PA’s one dozen monitors fall on that list.

 

Yes, it’s getting better, but the problem isn’t over. Is better air really good enough?

 

If you have an old wood stove or a wood-fired boiler, here’s your chance to make a little cash and potentially upgrade to something a little more air-friendly.

 

On Saturday, June 13, from 9 a.m. to noon in the parking lot of the Skating Rink in South Park, the Allegheny County Health Department is hosting its fourth annual buyback program for wood stoves and wood-fired boilers that don’t meet clean air goals.

 

Wood stoves that aren’t certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (basically anything built before 1992), will get you a $200 gift card. Wood-fired boilers that don’t meet Phase II goals for the EPA Hydronic Heater Voluntary Partnership Program will get you $500 cash. You need to register by Wednesday to drop off your old stove or boiler – if you just show up, the county may not be able to accept the drop off.

 

Why trade-in? Older models of both wood stoves and wood-fired boilers produce nearly twice as much small particle pollution (PM2.5) – that fine material that you can’t see, but that can be hazardous for people with asthma, breathing problems, heart problems and the like, as newer, certified models. Plus, when you burn wood, a laundry list of noxious gases and chemicals with links to cancer are released – benzene, formaldehyde, sulfoxides, nitrogen oxides, etc.

 

Check out this ad on Craigslist from someone trying to sell a wood stove, saying that asthma is one of the reasons why it’s on sale.*

 

Since the program started in 2013, ACHD has collected nearly 150 stoves and one boiler. They go to a company that recycles them.

 

EPA says that uncertified wood-fired boilers release nearly one ton of PM2.5 per year; certified boilers release about one-third that. A lot of clean air groups think the most air-friendly way to go is gas or electric, wanting you to breathe easier while staying warm next winter.

 

*It’s not clear from the ad or the model number if the stove is EPA compliant or not.

A few months after showing a link between autism and exposure to air toxics like styrene and chromium, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health are finding that soot, smoke and the small particles found in air pollution also are tied to this mysterious disorder.

 

IMG_4159

 

The team, led by Pitt epidemiologist Evelyn Talbott, studied more than 200 children in Western Pennsylvania on the autism spectrum, and compared them to a similar number of children not on the spectrum. The researchers interviewed their moms extensively about their lives and where they lived from before they got pregnant to the time their kids turned two.

 

They compared the geographical data to pollution levels using a special modeling system. Talbott and her team found that both before the kids were born and after, exposure to PM2.5, particles that are less than 2.5 microns in size, correlated to a diagnosis on the spectrum. One in 68 kids is on the spectrum.

 

A pair of baby's feet

 

The study was published in early May in a journal called Environmental Research, and while it isn’t conclusive, it does make us wonder – shouldn’t we give kids the cleanest air possible?

 

 

 

 

Our first set of pollution maps from Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies told a startling truth – along the rivers and major roadways of Allegheny County, black carbon was lurking in dangerous concentrations.

 

But, it was an overview, a broad look at a large area. You asked, what’s it like in my neighborhood? Maybe even my street?

 

Breathe

The newest set of pollution maps allow you to input your address. What’s the NOx in your neighborhood like? Your street? How is Black Carbon affecting your commute through Allegheny County? Click on the link to the left to find out.

CAPS listened. They reconfigured. And starting today, you can type in your address and see what black carbon and NO2 are like on your block.

 

The data have been gathered and averaged yearly for three years, 2011-2014. And yes, there have been minor improvements, but the creators of the map want to be clear: This is pretty good view of what our air is still like, today. And as Grant Oliphant, President of The Heinz Endowments says, this is not good enough.

 

Pittsburgh is on so many “best of” lists, but our air quality typically is among the worst in the nation. We believe we can improve. We believe we can breathe better. Learn more about your air at www.breatheproject.org.

 

 

 

 

Illah Nourbakhsh
Huffington Post
Feb. 26, 2015

 

I have written before about air quality as an issue for community-centered deliberation and action, and as a place where technology fluency can change the world. Air quality is never far from recent news tropes; but the past month we have witnessed an explosion in coverage, and for good reason. Studies have found new correlations between bad air, ADHD and autism. Add that to well-known epidemiological links to cardiovascular disease and, of course, asthma.

 

The amount of air quality suffering globally is truly staggering; and now comes the newest report: more than half of all residents of India live in such polluted air that more than three years is shaved off their lifespan. That’s 2.1 billion life-years lost, and that is just India, never mind China, Indonesia and countless other countries. My own beloved Pittsburgh suffers through 230 days of bad air every year, and even San Francisco, blessed by ocean winds, witnessed terrible air quality for nearly two weeks just last month. No doubt: air pollution is causing a global health crisis.

 

Awareness is always the first step. Just as U.S. air monitors atop embassies in China changed the conversation about air quality countrywide, so we need Americans to see invisible air particulates. Use Federal air quality data to see your neighborhood’s pollution profile, for example using your zip code at specksensor.org. For calibration, zero to 10 micrograms is great; 20 is moderate, and the Chicago study showed that 100 means a three-year cut to lifespan. Air pollution is also a major contributor to environmental injustice; a black carbon map of Pittsburgh, released this month, shows that the homes near Pittsburgh’s highways and in our valleys suffer from far greater levels of pollution — the pollution picture correlates frighteningly with a chart of Pittsburgh neighborhoods by income distribution.

 

We also need to measure indoor air pollution particulates so we learn whether we can control for our children’s asthma triggers. Technology will not save us from air pollution; but technology designed right will empower us to understand our pollution exposure and learn how to triage effectively.

 

Air pollution is a rapidly heightening concern, and it will not go away with a magic, technological salve. But we must aim our technical inventiveness at creating sensors and visualizations that will empower communities to come to grips with the scale and urgency of the problem, block by block. Particulates kill more in the U.S. than AIDS, breast cancer and prostate cancer put together. Literally 50 percent of us are at risk because of air pollution, although 100 percent of us have the human right to breathe easy.

 

Illah Nourbakhsh is the author of Robot Futures, Director of the CREATE Lab and Head of the Robotics Master’s Program at Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute

 

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) Air Quality Program recently announced its intent to issue an operating permit for the McConway and Torley steel foundry located on 48th street in Lawrenceville. This facility is a significant local source of air pollution that has prompted numerous odor and noise complaints from Lawrenceville residents. ACHD’s air permitting process provides an opportunity to reduce emissions from the McConway & Torley facility and improve air quality in Lawrenceville.

 

On March 16, GASP will hold a public meeting to discuss air quality in Lawrenceville and how members of the public can participate in the permit development process. Learn more about the permit and what you can do by attending this community meeting.

 

DATE: Monday, March 16th
TIME: 6-8 p.m.
LOCATION: Stephen Foster Community Center, 286 Main Street, Lawrenceville, PA 15201

 

Light refreshments will be served.
Please RSVP to jamin@gasp-pgh.org or 412-924-0604

 

by Jonathan Keane
NewScientist
February 19, 2015

 

And breathe… High-definition cameras are letting residents monitor the air pollution in their cities online, and in real time.

 

The Breathe Project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, worked with Carnegie Mellon University to create the Breathe Cam – four high-resolution cameras that capture haze and air pollution activity, along with software that visualises the data online. Up and running since December across Pittsburgh, the idea is that residents equipped with accurate information can lobby more effectively for companies and councils to stick to environmental guidelines.

 

Developed by the CREATE Lab at CMU’s Robotics Institute, the Breathe Cam snaps expansive panoramas of the city 24/7, which are available on the Breathe website alongside data taken from sensors on humidity, temperature and wind speed.

 

Randy Sargent, senior systems scientist at the Robotics Institute, says that the cameras have five times the resolutionof 4K television. To use the Breathe system, a resident logs on to one of the cameras, where they can see a view of the city as well as archived footage going back one year. They can see any haze over the cityand display data on fine particles, temperature, sulphur dioxide levels, humidity and wind direction captured by six sensors across the city to let users see what might be causing it.

 

Smoke-stack action

Users can focus on different parts of the city with the Change Detection tool. Selecting one aspect of the view, such as plumes of smoke from a stack, brings up data on pollution levels in that area over previous months, showing when the stack is most active.

The cameras and sensors cover about 200 square kilometres of the city and surrounding areas. Users can share the images and data on social media and can take snapshots of the air quality to send to city officials.

 

The cameras, and similar ones such as Camnet in Boston and Hazecam in Cleveland, Ohio, allow residents to “see” the pollution in a way they couldn’t before, says Ben Barratt at King’s College London. “The reason that the smog in Beijing is so notorious is people can see the pollution,” he adds.

 

Monitor your area

Other cities and groups have also deployed systems to track and visualise smog and haze, using maps or videos. They include London Air, developed at King’s, and the Dublin Dashboard in Ireland’s capital. Amsterdam’s Smart City initiative is attempting to increase civic involvement by encouraging residents themselves to install its air-quality sensors where they live.

Response to the cameras has been positive so far, says Johnson. “It’s a tool that is giving people the ability to learn about air quality in Pittsburgh in a way that they never had access to,” he says.

 

Local groups in Pennsylvania are now deploying their own camera systems. For example, residents in Allegheny County are using the software developed by Sargent and his team to specifically monitor the local Shenango coke plant and ensure it is complying with regulations.

Sargent says that faster broadband speeds and improvements in camera technology have helped. “Five years ago the computing power and the storage would have been prohibitively expensive,” he says.

 

Roy Harrison at the University of Birmingham, UK, welcomes these sorts of awareness-raising systems in cities. “Air pollution is a major public health issue which ranks highly amongst the avoidable causes of death in both the developed and less-developed world,” he says, “so no hype is necessary, just the facts.”

 

 

Margaret J Krauss
City Design Editor
NEXTPittsburgh
February 12, 2015

 

Mapping-NextPittsburgh

 

For two years Albert A. Presto measured air pollution at 70 sites throughout the county. An assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies, Presto specifically looked at levels of particulate matter otherwise known as PM2.5. Taking annual averages, the data was layered on top of a Google Earth image to illustrate varying concentrations.

 

PM2.5 was mapped while ozone was measured but not mapped. At a forum last night, Presto told the crowd that while ozone is bad, it’s secondary and less variable while greater understanding of PM is crucial.

 

“The end health effect of PM is that you die,” he said.

 

Dr. Deborah Gentile, Director of Research of the Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology for West Penn Allegheny Health System, discussed the link between air pollution and asthma.

 

“It is basically an epidemic in the region,” she said. “It’s not 100 percent cause and effect, but there is an association.”

 

Gentile said that in some communities the prevalence of asthma, almost 3o percent, is more than double that of the national rate. She added that minorities and those of lower socioeconomic standing are disproportionately affected.

 

Presto and Gentile presented to a standing-room-only crowd in the basement of Shadyside’s First Unitarian Church last evening. Presto pulled up a map of the United States that highlighted in blue the counties not meeting the standard for PM2.5 levels. The Pittsburgh region is a stark cluster in a mostly clear map.

 

“All of the significant epidemiological relationships are between PM and mortality,” said Presto. “When the EPA calculates health benefits from decreasing air pollution, 95 percent of that is PM.”

 

A map of black carbon pollution, a component of PM2.5, shows deep red hues in low-lying areas in Pittsburgh such as the river valleys, along the highways and near industrial operations. With pollution, it’s important to differentiate between what can be controlled and what can’t, said Presto, citing exhaust that wafts to Pittsburgh from other places.

 

“The next step is to start looking at sources, not just pollutant concentrations because you don’t regulate pollution, you regulate sources.”

 

PennEnvironment, the citizen-based advocacy group that organized the forum, voiced concerns about specific threats to air quality such as the Shenango Coke Works and the Clairton Coke Works.

 

Ted Popovich of Allegheny County Clean Air Now and Stephen Riccardi of PennEnvironment also spoke at the forum, urging attendees to attend other meetings and make calls to elected officials to demonstrate the community’s desire for improved air quality.

 

Forum attendees said their goal is to make policy makers and the Allegheny Health Department pay attention.

 

“I don’t think the health department is actually taking air quality complaints seriously,” said Edgewood resident Christopher Harper. “By getting more people involved, hopefully that will get back to the health department.”

 

Presto said his maps will be available to the public soon.

 

By David Templeton / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

 

BlackCarbon-PG

 

When it comes to the particulate matter, PM2.5, Pittsburgh is the sixth most polluted city in the United States and the most polluted city east of California, the American Lung Association says.

 

But the big question has been how these pollution levels of particulate matter, or PM2.5, affect specific municipalities in Allegheny County and city neighborhoods. Albert A. Presto, a research professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies, finally has some answers.

 

Maps he’s generated after monitoring air pollution levels at 70 key sites countywide for two years reveal levels of black carbon, which is a component of PM2.5; sulfur dioxide (SOX), nitric oxide (NOX), carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, benzene and toluene, among others. Ozone levels were measured but not mapped.

 

Mr. Presto, who holds a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, will present his air-quality maps during a free public forum 7 p.m. tonight at the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, 605 Morewood Ave., Shadyside.

 

Deborah Gentile, an asthma and allergy physician at Allegheny General Hospital; Ted Popovich of Allegheny County Clean Air Now; and Stephen Riccardi, a field associate with Penn Environment, also will make presentations during the forum.

 

The black-carbon map, for example, shows high pollution levels concentrated in industrial sites and along heavily traveled roadways. But one conclusion is clear: Pittsburgh’s three rivers are pollution highways.

 

“You see heavy loading of pollution in valleys,” said Philip Johnson, director of the Heinz Endowments’ Breathe Project. The Endowments funded Mr. Presto’s research. “We all worry about black carbon because it is a significant contributor to climate change and health problems with associations to many adverse health outcomes from birth to death, including reproductive outcomes, heart attacks and stroke, and exasperation of [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease] and asthma.”

 

Pollution concentrations in river valleys, he said, should raise public concern about parks, bicycle trails and recreational facilities along the rivers, he said.

 

“We are encouraging people to go outside, to recreate, play and enjoy parks,” Mr. Johnson said. “But what can the city say about itself if it has the highest levels of black carbon in the most intimate areas of human experience? You have pollution trapped in areas where people live, work and play.”

 

In coming phases of pollution mapping, the project will identify specific sources of pollution and human exposure levels to show “where it is, where it is coming from, and whom it is affecting,” Mr. Johnson said.

 

Already, Mr. Presto said, the maps he generated represent the most detailed measurement of pollution by location, noting that other cities also are producing similar pollution maps. Until now, pollution levels largely were limited to county averages or the eight sites where the Allegheny County Health Department has placed pollution monitors.

 

To generate the maps, Mr. Presto said he identified 70 sites, both hill and dale, but also including busy highways with pollution largely linked to diesel fuel emissions and such industrial sites as the Cheswick power plant in Springdale, U.S. Steel Corp.’s Clairton Coke Works and the Shenago coke works on Neville Island.

 

The Heidelberg-Carnegie area showed unexpectedly higher pollution levels likely due to their valley locations, proximity to Interstate 79 and the Parkway West, and smaller industrial plants that are major sources of pollution, he said.

 

An area along the East Busway in the Oakland-Squirrel Hill area also had high pollution levels.

 

“People still think that industry is big steel mills,“ Mr. Presto said. ”But when you have close proximity to small facilities you can be exposed to elevated concentrations of pollution and associated health risks.”

 

David Templeton: dtempleton@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1578

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