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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.

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.

 

The American Lung Association released its annual State of the Air 2017 report this week. Pittsburgh remains one of the most polluted cities in our nation. We have a long long road ahead of us as we work toward cleaner air and healthier communities. Learn more.

By Thaddeus Popovich,
Allegheny County Clean Air Now co-founder

 

In January 2016, the Shenango coke plant, six miles down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, shut down after producing coke for 54 years. It had operated a battery of 56 ovens, which each year produced 350,000 tons of coke, the fuel used in steelmaking.

 

About 170 workers lost their jobs because of the closing, a sobering result of the decision by DTE Energy, a Detroit-based, diversified energy company, to shutter the plant because of the global steel industry’s “overcapacity.” But for many people who lived near the plant, the clearer skies and cleaner air of the past year have been a welcomed relief for them and their families and a testament to their determination to improve the quality of life in their community.

 

For decades, Shenango’s coke-making process – filling an oven with coal, baking it at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for18 hours, then removing the coke and dousing it with water to cool – created hazardous byproducts such as fine particulates and the carcinogenic air toxins benzene, xylene and toluene. Federal and Allegheny County Health Department officials issued numerous consent degrees and orders because of violations of air and water quality regulations. A 2014 county decree, for example, covered 330 days of air quality violations over a 432-day period that ended Sept. 30, 2013. Also in 2014, the advocacy nonprofit GASP – Group Against Smog and Pollution – filed a citizens lawsuit against Shenango.

 

Meanwhile, residents of nearby communities like Avalon, Bellevue, Ben Avon and Emsworth became more and more impatient. They were tired of air that smelled at times like rotten eggs, with a distinct whiff of partially burnt coal. They grew weary of the blanket of hazy bad air that seemed to hang over the valley more often than not. And they were frustrated that regulatory agencies seemed ineffective in controlling the problem.

 

That’s why a group of us in the area formed an informal grass roots association called Allegheny County Clean Air Now (ACCAN). Some of us became certified emissions evaluators to watch Shenango and report on harmful emissions. We organized meetings within the community and met with the Health Department on a regular basis. We traveled to the federal Environmental Protection Agency’s Region III headquarters in Philadelphia to meet with Regional Administrator Shawn Garvin and his staff to request their help. We obtained resolutions from our municipalities requesting that the Health Department strictly enforce regulations, and we presented a petition requesting the same, signed by a consortium of businesses, churches and other local organizations.

 

ACCAN also worked with local media and set up a social media network to increase broad public awareness of the problem. We engaged with Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab – Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment – which helped us set up a 24/7 video monitor of the plant and distribute Speck air quality monitors to homes and businesses in the surrounding community to confirm the presence of fine particulates. And we created a stories project to detail the before-and-after effects of more than 20 individuals affected by the Shenango coke plant.

 

We have found that since Shenango shut down, the improvement in air quality has been significant. In the first quarter of 2015, the Health Department received 109 complaints from the surrounding communities versus 13 complaints during the first quarter of 2016, an 88 percent reduction. Of the 109 reports, 99 identified Shenango as the source of the problem. Monitoring cameras now show a haze-free site with no more grey, black or tan billowing emissions. All monitors are recording a reduction in pollution levels.

 

Anecdotal examples support the improvement. Debbie Blackburn and her family have lived in Ben Avon for more than 19 years and had made plans to move because they could no longer cope with the constant bad air. Both of her sons suffer from autism, a condition studies have shown to be associated with air pollution. They decided to stay after plans to close Shenango were announced in December 2015. Blackburn said now the air is refreshing and “the wind …feels clean against your skin, not gritty and heavy.”

 

Leah Andrascik, an Avalon resident, said with the plant’s closure “a huge weight has been lifted. We can leave windows open overnight without waking to nauseating odors or headaches. Our boys play outside, and I don’t have to cut their play time short because of odors in the neighborhood. We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to stay in the home and community we now can love.”

 

Although the Shenango plant is gone, we continue to be concerned about what DTE Energy will do next with the 50-acre site. We are lobbying hard for replacing Shenango with a solar array facility as DTE Energy is doing at several locations in Michigan and a brownfield site in eastern Pennsylvania.

 

We continue to be watchful of the remaining industries on Neville Island, three of which hold operating permits issued by Allegheny County Health Department based on Environmental Protection Agency regulations. We are concerned about the proposed Shell petrochemical ethane cracker plant in Beaver County and are offering our assistance in the formation of grass roots awareness and activism.

 

Now that Shenango has been closed for a year, we no longer are fearful of the air and water contaminants, measured in tons per year, which spewed into our air and flowed into the Ohio River. Our air and water are cleaner now. We expect that our incidences of cancer and cardiovascular, nervous and respiratory system problems will go down significantly. And we believe our communities will be healthier, more attractive places to live.

 

Thaddeus Popovich,
ACCAN co-founder

 

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

inhaler

By Philip Johnson, PhD, MPH, MESc
Program Director for Science and Environment
Director, The Breathe Project

The Heinz Endowments

 

A leading pediatric asthma specialist has found that air pollution in the Pittsburgh region contributes to the local incidence and severity of asthmatic disease in our schoolchildren. The study led by Dr. Deborah Gentile, director of allergy and asthma clinical research for Allegheny Health Network, determined that poor air quality in four suburban districts — Northgate, Allegheny Valley, Gateway and Woodland Hills — as well as the City of Pittsburgh was not only the leading predictor of asthma, but it also was associated with a higher rate of uncontrolled asthma in children who participated in the volunteer study.

 

This is the most recent of several studies showing that our region’s air pollution is hurting our children.

 

In 2014, University of Pittsburgh researchers discovered that southwestern Pennsylvania children with autism spectrum disorder were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of airborne chromium, styrene and fine particulate matter pollution.  Dr. Evelyn Talbott, principal investigator of the analysis and a professor of epidemiology in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, found that children exposed during their mothers’ pregnancies and the first two years of life have a greater risk of developing autism.

 

Other studies have examined the region’s air pollution more broadly, but the connections to the impact on children’s health are hard to ignore.

 

Is it a coincidence that an analysis by the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force of state and federal air quality measurement sites from nearly 300 urban areas ranks the Pittsburgh area in the dirtiest 15 percent of monitored cities for fine particulate matter?

 

Is it a coincidence that Allegheny County’s cancer risk attributable to industrial air pollution ranks in the highest 0.03 percent of all counties in the United States, according to the National Air Toxics Assessment?

 

Is it a coincidence that last year Pittsburgh had about 250 days of air quality that was not good, as defined by the Environmental Protection Agency? And that Allegheny County is among only a handful of the thousands of counties in the country still not meeting federal air quality standards?

 

Science says all of this is not a coincidence. In fact, science shows that air pollution is hurting our region’s children.

 

Fine particle air pollution prematurely kills nearly 100,000 Americans each year, contributes to asthma, sends many thousands with respiratory and heart disease to hospitals and emergency rooms, and results in untold numbers of lost school and work days. Studies in Pittsburgh and across the country have shown that prenatal, infant and child exposures to air pollutants – such as ozone, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and fine particles – are associated with outcomes including premature birth and low birth weight, impairment of brain development leading to cognitive and behavioral disorders, and acute and chronic respiratory illness and disease.

 

Leading health science and pediatric experts such as Dr. Philip Landrigan of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York note that children are exquisitely more sensitive than adults to toxic chemicals in the environment. Children experience greater exposures to toxic chemicals per pound body weight – meaning they breathe in more air pollution than adults do relative to their size. Their systems are not fully capable of eliminating toxins. Their early developmental processes are easily disrupted by pollutants, so exposures to pollution can lead to a variety of serious health conditions. We should not be surprised that air pollution disproportionately harms our children.

 

Since February, The Heinz Endowments and foundation President Grant Oliphant have been urging people across the region to consider ways of creating what Mr. Oliphant has called a “Just Pittsburgh.” One aspect of this idea is devising strategies to safeguard air and water quality everywhere, for everyone, including our most vulnerable citizens.

 

Here are three things we can do to protect our children:

1) Demand that regulatory officials stop allowing “checkbook compliance” for chronic smoke stack polluters. Industrial sources – which generate nearly 60 percent of Allegheny County’s direct fine particle pollution – should be held to a standard of actual compliance with laws. Industry should not be allowed to pay fines and continue to pollute.

 

2)  Ask school administrations and boards to prioritize protecting children from pollution. Asthma and autism exact a heavy toll on children’s school attendance and performance. Schools can be environmental sanctuaries for children – clean and free of pollution. School staff, environmental health and building maintenance experts can work together to eliminate the use and presence of harmful chemicals, products and pollutants in and around schools, and to ensure the use of newer school buses with lower emissions.

 

3) Encourage elected officials to champion clean air and to promote smart policies and programs. National health experts say that better air quality is one of the most beneficial and effective ways to improve health. Economic benefits also greatly increase due to reduced health care costs. There are many proven ways local officials can make a difference. A few examples include citywide clean construction requirements for developers, building design standards that clean indoor air and reduce the intrusion of outdoor air, and engagement with medical and insurance leaders to encourage preventive health care.

 

A recent Allegheny County health indicator survey found that air pollution is the number one concern of local residents. People want clean air. A just city and region provides a healthy and livable environment for our children, and that includes ensuring that they are breathing clean air.

 

On May 5, Allegheny General Hospital, Allegheny Health Network and The Breathe Project of The Heinz Endowments presented a summit on the impact of the Pittsburgh region’s air quality on asthma outcomes in our communities.  Pittsburgh’s particulate matter air pollution is among the worst 15 percent of cities across the country. Particulate matter pollution is tied to multiple illnesses, including asthma.  The summit focused on air quality in Pittsburgh and health impacts of urban living.  The summit also summarized recent research findings about asthma outcomes in our region and provided an overview of the region’s clean air plan.

 


Philip Johnson, PhD, MPH, MESc
Program Director, Science and Environment, The Heinz Endowments
Director of the Breathe Project

 


Norman Anderson, MSPH
Environmental Public Health Consultant
Winslow, Maine

 


Deborah Gentile, MD
Associate Professor of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine
Director of Research, Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Allegheny Health Network

 


Michael Brauer (Keynote)
Professor, Faculty of Medicine, School of Population and Public Health
Director, Bridge Program, The University of British Columbia

 


Margaret Sammon Parsons, PhD
Healthy Air Campaign Coordinator, American Lung Association in PA

 


Thurman Brendlinger, MBA
Program Director, Clean Air Council

Breathe_Cam_photo_captures-July_2014

Visible pollution in Pittsburgh:  compare days with low vs elevated levels of fine particulate matter. Both our visual and olfactory senses can act as “monitors” of pollution, depending on the type of pollutant. However, some pollutants impart no odors and cannot be seen. (Images from the Breathe Cam)

 

By Albert Presto
Assistant Research Professor, Mechanical Engineering
Carnegie Mellon University

 

What we put into the air doesn’t stay in one place. This may seem obvious to anyone who has stood downwind of a smoky campfire or watched the wind push around dust and leaves. But this fact often seems to be forgotten when examining the impacts of a pollution source on nearby populations. The bias is generally to focus very close to the source. This is with good reason – regardless of which way the wind is blowing, emissions from a factory or other facility will almost always be present nearby – but it also can give the misleading impression that only those people living in the shadow of a source can be affected.

 

In Pittsburgh, our noses can remind us of the presence nearby pollution sources. Local residents, myself included, will report instances of “industrial” odors, even if they live or work miles away from the nearest major industrial facility. Others smell nothing. The odors tend to be most intense in the morning hours, when the atmosphere is calm and the ground-level mixed layer is shallow, meaning that emissions are trapped near the ground.

 

To many, the source of these odors can be puzzling. We don’t live in Pittsburgh’s bad old days, when steel mills up and down the rivers belched black smoke day and night. Often there is no visible indication of a source, such as smoke or an idling truck nearby. The few remaining major sources are clustered into a few enclaves along the rivers (like the Monongahela River valley industrial complex), often far from where people smell and report the odors from. With no smoking gun, what makes the stink?

 

To help answer this question, my research group at Carnegie Mellon University recently characterized air pollution in two Pittsburgh neighborhoods about 10 miles from any major industrial sources. We found that in both locations, one in the suburban south hills and one in Squirrel Hill, concentrations of some pollutants would peak during the overnight and early morning hours. These pollutants included a class of cancer-causing organic compounds such as benzene, toluene, and xylenes, collectively known as BTEX. BTEX is emitted by a number of different sources, including automobiles and some industrial activities.

 

We were able to determine that the nighttime and early morning peaks in BTEX are the result of nearby industrial emissions, trapped near the ground by weather conditions, and transported to our measurement locations by the wind. The industrial sources contributed about 70 percent of the measured BTEX at the two measurement sites, with traffic making up about a quarter. This means that industrial sources can dominate human exposures to pollutants classified as air toxics by the EPA. Industrial and traffic sources show very different temporal patterns – the traffic source is strongest in the day, when people are driving their cars, whereas the industrial source peaks overnight, during hours when many people are home and asleep. Thus, people may be unaware of their exposure. The industrial plumes can also persist into the morning hours, mixing with traffic emissions and affecting exposures during the early waking hours.

 

Do these BTEX plumes match with reports from the local nose patrol? Our initial results indicate that they do. Several volunteers logged smell reports while my team was making our measurements. Each smell event logged by our volunteers matched a measured overnight plume, though our smellers did not log every measured plume event. It’s important to note that smelly or not, these plumes exist and impact large parts of the county. Truly determining the accuracy of the human nose at identifying these industrial plumes will require a more focused study, but the initial results suggest that the industrial smells noticed by the public are real and are the result of plumes of industrial emissions.

 

Read the full report on this research.

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

 

Presentations Will Include Results of AHN Study on Asthma in Pittsburgh-area Schoolchildren, Keynote Address on Health Impacts of Urban Living 

 
PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Leading asthma experts will gather Thursday, May 5 in Pittsburgh to explore the impact regional air quality has on asthmatic disease in the Pittsburgh community. “The Air We Breathe: A Regional Summit on Asthma in Our Community,” presented by Allegheny Health Network (AHN) and The Breathe Project of The Heinz Endowments, runs from 8 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center in Downtown Pittsburgh.

 

AHN’s Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) and The Breathe Project have partnered since 2012 to bring together internationally leading experts on the health impacts of air pollution to address the latest scientific information and raise further awareness about this public health issue. The Summit is free and open to the public, and members of the media are invited to attend.

 

A highlight of this year’s Summit will be a presentation by Deborah Gentile, MD, Director of Allergy and Asthma Clinical Research in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine at AHN, on findings from a recently completed study of asthma prevalence, severity and risk factors among local school children. The Breathe Project funded Dr. Gentile’s pilot study of 267 fifth-grade students from 12 Pittsburgh-area schools. She will make her presentation, “Impact of Air Quality on Asthma Outcomes in Our Region’s Schoolchildren,” at 9 a.m.

 

The keynote speaker at the Summit is Michael Brauer, ScD, a professor of medicine at The University of British Columbia who sits on the Scientific Advisory Panel of the Climate and Clear Air Coalition (CCAC), part of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). Dr. Brauer specializes in the assessment of exposure and health impacts of air pollution, particularly transportation-related and biomass air pollution. His keynote address, “Health Impacts of Urban Living,” is scheduled for 10:15 to 11:15 a.m.

 

“Pittsburgh certainly has come a long way from the place where the streetlights infamously would come on during the daytime because the air was so heavy and dark from pollution, but much work remains to be done,” said Dr. Gentile. “Pittsburgh’s particulate matter pollution is among the worst 15 percent of cities in the United States, and particulate matter pollution is tied to multiple illnesses, including asthma. The Allergy and Asthma Foundation has ranked Pittsburgh as the 27th-most challenging U.S. city to live with asthma. Events like the Summit are important to ensure we are working together to develop the best possible solutions to the asthma epidemic.”

 

Other topics and presenters at the Summit will include:

•    “Air Quality in Pittsburgh and Environmental Health Challenges” – 8:10 a.m., Philip Johnson, MPH, PhD, Program Director for Science and Environment and Director of The Breathe Project at The Heinz Endowments

•    “Developing Air Quality Guidance Criteria for Urban Planners: How Model Cities Can Make a Difference” – 8:30 a.m., Norman Anderson, MSPH, environmental public health consultant

•    “Call to Action: Working Together for Clean Air in the Region” – 11:15 a.m., Thurman Brendlinger, MBA, Program Director, Clean Air Council and Margaret Sammon Parsons, PhD, Healthy Air Campaign Coordinator, American Lung Association in PA

 

Nearly 25 million Americans, and more than 9 percent of children, suffer from asthma. It accounts for 25 percent of all emergency room visits and 3,300 deaths yearly, many of which could be avoided with proper treatment and care.

 

###

For more information, contact:

This week, the folks at GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution) did a retro thing in our digital, share-it-all world. Rather than deluge Pittsburgh Public Schools with tweets and Facebook posts asking them to upgrade their buses to spew less pollution, they went old-school, delivering hundreds of postcards, signed by parents and community members, to district administration at a Board of Education meeting.

IdleBlog1

In mid-December, Group Against Smog and Pollution delivered hundreds of signed postcards to Pittsburgh Public Schools, urging them to upgrade school buses so that they emit fewer pollutants.

 

School buses? They emit pollution? Yes.

Every day, while kids wait to board the bus after school, while they’re in transit, idling school buses release a soup of polluting chemicals into the air and into your kids’ lungs. It’s called diesel particulate matter, and it’s made up of benzene, formaldehyde, nitrogen compounds, sulfur compounds, and tiny pieces of metal, ash and carbon (dude, that’s a list!).

And it’s not just your kids breathing in that stuff. The teachers and para-pros who wait with them and the bus drivers who take them home also get lungs full of the stuff. Every day.

Buses waiting near Pittsburgh's downtown schools. They are turned off, not idling.

Buses waiting near Pittsburgh’s downtown schools. They are turned off, not idling.

Pollution is strongly linked to childhood asthma, other respiratory illnesses in kids and adults and heart problems in grown-ups. So, GASP’s request to PPS was a simple one – as the district renegotiates their contract with the school bus companies they want to work with, insist that

a) they use only newer buses built with emission controls,

or

b) that they retrofit their old fleets with diesel particulate filters.

 

GASP said to the district, be part of the plan to give our kids the cleanest air possible every day.

 

We have some of the worst air in the United States, and that’s true for pretty much all of the Pittsburgh area. Idling may not be our biggest source of pollution in Pittsburgh, but it’s an important and comparatively easy one to manage.

 

While the bulk of the schmutz in the air comes from industrial point sources like coke ovens, the few remaining steel mills and cement plants, a good chunk of it also comes from commercial diesel vehicles. By law, they are allowed to idle for five out of every 60 minutes in operation, and up to 15 minutes per hour if they carry passengers in need of say, heat or air conditioning.

 

So, school buses, tour buses, those large coaches that take commuters back to the exurbs each day – they really aren’t supposed to sit with their engines running. Yet, they do, even in the case of school buses, as they are sitting in front of mandatory signs asking them not to. GASP has sent several hundred signs to 13 different regional school districts, including most recently, the one in Hempfield.

Buses are not supposed to idle outside schools for longer than five minutes per 60 minute stretch.

Buses are not supposed to idle outside schools for longer than five minutes per 60 minute stretch.

 

Getting newer buses is a good deal for districts, too. They are more reliable. Parents get fewer calls about stalled buses. Drivers don’t have to worry if turning off the bus means they won’t be able to turn it back on.

 

And then, there’s this: money. The idling law is only enforceable by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection inspectors and local police departments. The cops get half the fine in civic revenue for each ticket paid. For communities who have the manpower, enforcing this law means cash in the coffers.

 

So, as the school year continues, here’s to the teachers, parents, drivers and even the kids themselves who talk to bus drivers and school officials about this issue, and who value the littlest lungs in our city. Cleaner buses and less idling means a less toxic educational environment in southwestern PA, and who wouldn’t get behind that?

 

If your school district is lacking the mandatory signage contact GASP at idling@gasp-pgh.org for information on free signs.

 

events
October 20, 2017
GASP-toberfest     Join GASP for fun, fall festivities at GASP-toberfest as we celebrate a year’s worth of victories and successes.   Fri, October 20, 2017 5:30 PM – 9:00 PM EDT   Penn Brewery Restaurant 800 Vinial Street Pittsburgh, PA … Learn More
October 14, 2017
2017 Pittsburgh Solar Tour   Participate in the Seventh Annual Pittsburgh Solar Tour   PennFuture’s 7th annual Pittsburgh Solar Tour encourages solar and clean energy solutions by connecting citizens to residential, commercial, and public solar installations and installers. Each year, this free event attracts … Learn More
October 25, 2017
Pittsburgh’s Air Quality, Indoor Environments, and You   A CRASH COURSE AND CITIZEN SCIENCE SHOWCASE: PITTSBURGH’S AIR QUALITY, INDOOR ENVIRONMENTS, AND YOU October 25, 2017 – 3-6p The Heinz Endowments’ 31st Floor Conference Center   Despite great improvements in air quality since the days of streetlights being … Learn More
September 27, 2017
Petrochemical America: From Cancer Alley to Toxic Valley 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 … Learn More
August 10, 2017
GASP Air Fair   “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 … Learn More
October 17, 2017
Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Training Comes to Pittsburgh 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, … Learn More
May 22, 2017
Green City Remix Explores Social Change through Air Quality and Art   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 … Learn More
May 3, 2017
Physical Activity, Air Pollution and Asthma in the Urban Environment   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. … Learn More
See all events
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