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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

 

Kaye Burnet
WESA
February 10, 2015

 

BCmap

 

Pittsburgh is the 6th most offensive city in the country in terms of air pollution, according to a 2014 report from the American Lung Association.

 

However, Carnegie Mellon University professor Albert Presto wanted to look further into Pittsburgh’s air quality. Using mobile laboratories, including a van he called the “Breathmobile,” Presto drove throughout Allegheny County collecting pollution data. Presto turned this data into a series of color-coded maps that reveal where pollutants are found in the county.

 

Presto will present these maps in a public forum at 7 p.m. Wednesday night in the First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh.

 

Presto said Pittsburgh air quality is marked by high levels of particulate matter that violate Environmental Protection Agency standards. Particulate matter is made up of small solid or liquid specks suspended in the air. Presto said this includes the puff of black smoke that large trucks emit and the smog that can make far-away hillsides or buildings look fuzzy.

 

Presto’s maps show heavy pollution concentrations in downtown, Oakland and the Monongahela River Valley, among other regions—“pretty much the places you would expect,” said Presto.

 

Industrial facilities such as the Clairton Coke Works emit large amounts of pollution in Allegheny County, said Presto, which can affect communities miles away. Pittsburgh’s river valleys augment the problem, Presto explained, because “the emissions can get trapped down there.”

 

Stephen Riccardi from the PennEnvironment Research Center said Pittsburgh does not have to choose between clean air and industry — industry just has to clean up its act.

 

“There’s a lot of it that’s just asking the facilities to be more careful in how they are going about their processes,” said Riccardi.

 

Riccardi pointed out that while Pittsburgh has made big improvements in air quality since its soot-ridden days of the last century, there is still an ongoing problem.

 

“With air pollution, ‘better’ is hardly good enough,” Riccardi said, pointing out that particulate matter aggravates asthma.

 

Dr. Deborah Gentile from Allegheny General Hospital will be present at Wednesday’s forum to explain how poor air quality can hurt public health. According to the World Health Organization, particulate matter can cause respiratory and heart problems. It has been linked to lung cancer and increased hospitalizations, especially among children and the elderly.

pennenvirWant to find out about the dangers of air pollution in our area and the associated health impacts? Want to see just how bad the pollution is in your own neighborhood? Is there a possible link between pollution and your child’s asthma? Head down to the Clean Air Forum to find out.

 

RSVP: http://bit.ly/1ETZhUg.

 

WHEN: Wednesday, February 11th, 7pm

 

WHO: Albert Presto, Ph.D, Carnegie Mellon University Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies; Deborah Gentile, MD, Allegheny General Hospital; Stephen Riccardi, PennEnvironment

 

EVENT LOCATION: First Unitarian Church of Pittsburgh, 605 Morewood Ave., Pittsburgh, PA  15213

 

5_ways-to-help

The Environmental Protection Agency recently designated Allegheny County as out of compliance with federal air quality standards for fine particulate matter, a type of air pollution known to cause premature death. The EPA’s detailed analysis shows that multiple local sources contribute to the county’s harmful levels of air quality.

 

We can do better. We need to do better.

 

Almost every other county – or 95 percent of the United States – already complies with the federal standards, set in 2012. And our country’s standards lag far behind those recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the standards of one of our closest neighbors, Canada.

Attainment2

(NOTE: Blue counties – including Allegheny County – are those NOT in attainment. Source: EPA 2014)

 

Fine particulate matter kills tens of thousands of Americans each year. But it’s worth noting that solutions to this public health problem are well-understood and achievable. Also, for every dollar spent to reduce air pollution sources, many more dollars are saved by avoiding heart attacks, asthma and lost workdays and schooldays.

 

Since up to 66 percent of Allegheny County’s air pollution comes from sources within the county and Pennsylvania, the Breathe Project’s mission is to promote a collective understanding and vision that it is vitally important for all us to do more to improve our region’s air quality.

 

We need to do better, and we can do better.

 

Here are five ways our business, civic and community leaders can work together to reduce air pollution, and in so doing commit our region to having healthy air that is safe for all of us to breathe.

 

(1) Every reasonable step should be taken to ensure the largest local industrial air pollution sources are subject to stringent emissions controls and are not in violation of their permits. “Pay to pollute” is not a viable way to regulate facilities with violations.

 

(2) A comprehensive plan to reduce diesel emissions should be developed and various strategies should be employed to decrease their contribution to the problem. These efforts should include idling law enforcement, adoption of clean construction policies and retrofit/replacement projects. We should emulate some of the institutions in Pittsburgh that already have taken the lead to accomplish these goals.

 

(3) Mass transit, bike lanes and carpooling should continue to be incentivized.

 

(4) Laws on wood burning should be strengthened and enforced. There is no reason why entire portions of neighborhoods should be smoked out by a handful of wood burners whose emissions infiltrate into others’ homes and make yards virtually uninhabitable.

 

(5) Inventories should be conducted in the neighborhoods, schools and parks where we and our children live, work and play to assess their air pollution burden and contributing factors. With this information, steps should be taken to reduce sources within their control and to demand that regulators work harder and faster to clean up those sources outside of residents’ control.

 

We can act now to clean up our air. Let’s do it!

 

First Sustainability Pioneers Bridge Party!

 

Wednesday January 14, 2015, 4:30 PM to 6:30 PM

 

PointBreezeway
7113 Reynolds St
Pittsburgh, PA 15208

 

Join the first Sustainability Pioneers Bridge Party  – wine & cheese, networking, live music & and brainstorming on how to move from climate awareness to climate action.

 

FREE, but Registration is required: https://events.benchmarkemail.com/event/F9AE6E395

Local air quality groups are circulating a petition urging the Allegheny County Health Department to include air quality in the strategic plan they are adopting at the Board of Health meeting on Jan. 7. Please help move this important issue forward by signing.  http://org.salsalabs.com/o/2155/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=16891

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  • Breathe Project

    TONIGHT: Public meeting to discuss the reduced-emissions permit for McConway&Torley in Lawrenceville. Sponsored by the health department.

    Written comments due today at 4 p.m.: aqpermits@achd.net

    Draft permit at http://www.achd.net.

    Hearing at 6 p.m., 1st-floor conference room, building 7, ACHD, 301 39th St., Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh.
    http://ow.ly/LpsSv

    Allegheny County Health Department Home

    www.achd.net

    ACHD's goal is to assure quality public health services, promote wellness, and protect Allegheny County's citizens from harmful effects of...

    Apr 14th 9:01pm • No Comments

    Hey folks: Just a reminder: Tuesday night, 6 p.m., is the public meeting sponsored by the Allegheny County Health Department to talk about the steel-production/pollution permit for McConway&Torley in Lawrenceville.

    If you want to talk, deadline to let them know is Monday.
    If you want to email comments, you can through Tuesday.

    The meeting is at the health department on 39th St. in Lawrenceville. Click the link for information.

    http://ow.ly/LprE4

    Check out this link

    www.achd.net

    Apr 10th 12:01pm • No Comments

    Hey, Facebook! If you can, pop out for a bit today at 2 p.m. to learn about *indoor* air quality from some of our region's experts. #breatheinbreatheout #pittsburgh #airquality #indoorbreathing #innovation.

    Innovation & Performance Speaker Series
    Apr. 8
    2 p.m. to 3 p.m.
    I&P Lecture Room
    6th Floor, City-County Building
    414 Grant St., Downtown

    Apr 8th 12:14pm • No Comments

    We know about outdoor pollutants, but what about the air we breathe *inside*? Take a late lunch and join the City of Pittsburgh, The Heinz Endowments, CMU's Create Lab and Pitt's Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation on Apr. 8 to learn more. #pittsburgh #airquality #indoorbreathing #innovation

    Innovation & Performance Speaker Series
    Apr. 8
    2:00 p.m. to 3 p.m.
    I&P Lecture Room
    6th Floor, City-County Building
    414 Grant St., Downtown

    Apr 3rd 9:50am • No Comments

    Have you checked out P4 Pittsburgh yet? The Breathe Project is one of the featured projects this week.

    P4 Pittsburgh

    Breathe Project: One of the many efforts in Pittsburgh that defines Planet - one of the principles of p4.

    Whether learning through the Breathe Meter that our air is dirtier than New York City's, watching our skies via the Breathe Cam, or learning that today, Apr. 1, our air quality is good, Breathe Project brings people from all walks of life in Pittsburgh together, united by the desire to live in a cleaner, healthier city.
    #p4pgh #pittsburgh #cleanair #breathedeeply #planet

    Apr 2nd 2:56pm • No Comments

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