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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.



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?



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.


(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!

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.

For immediate release:
December 3, 2014


Breathe Cam Lets Citizens Document Pittsburgh’s
Visual Air Pollution and Its Sources


Carnegie Mellon Technology Now Part of The Heinz Endowments’ Breathe Project


PITTSBURGH—A system of four cameras, called Breathe Cam, now keeps a constant watch on air quality over Pittsburgh, providing citizens with a new interactive tool for monitoring and documenting visual pollution in the air they breathe and even tracing it back to its sources.


Funded by The Heinz Endowments as part of its Breathe Project, the camera system was developed and deployed by the CREATE Lab in Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute. Anyone can access Breathe Cam online, where images of the Downtown, East End and Mon Valley skylines are updated around the clock.


Using the interactive controls, people can zoom in on items of interest, whether it’s a hovering brown cloud or individual smokestacks or coke plants. They can scan back in time to observe changes in visibility or to try to find the sources of dirty air. They also can skip back to particular dates and times that have been catalogued since the cameras were installed.


The researchers also have developed a computer vision tool to help people identify and quantify events of interest, such as releases from a smokestack. Users can correlate the visual conditions with hourly reports of fine particulate matter, ozone and other pollutant levels recorded by Allegheny County Health Department air monitoring stations.


“People can use Breathe Cam to gather visual evidence of what’s happening to the air they breathe, whether it’s for the entire city or for a pollution source that is a concern in their neighborhood,” said Illah Nourbakhsh, professor of robotics. “With a better understanding of the dynamics of our environment, people can work more effectively to improve conditions. This isn’t technology for technology’s sake, but for the sake of community empowerment.”


Breathe Cam includes four cameras that produce panoramic images: one atop Mount Washington’s Trimont Towers; another at 625 Liberty Avenue, Downtown; one directed toward the East End from the University of Pittsburgh’s Benedum Hall that was installed in October; and a camera overlooking the Mon Valley from Walnut Towers in Squirrel Hill.


“The launch of the Breathe Cam creates for Pittsburgh one of the world’s most sophisticated imaging technologies for visualizing air pollution,” said Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments, which launched the Breathe Project in the fall of 2011 to improve air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania. “This powerful tool will help build public awareness about the effects of dirty air on our health and environment, while empowering people to better understand and reduce these impacts in their own communities.”


The technology behind Breathe Cam is similar to the CREATE Lab’s GigaPan system, which uses software to stitch together multiple photographs to create a large panorama with incredible resolution. But researchers, led by Randy Sargent and Paul Dille, have upgraded the system so people can explore the panoramas only minutes after the individual images are recorded.


“This is the first time we’ve had cameras that can take pictures this rapidly and do so 24/7,” said Sargent, senior systems scientist. “And we no longer have to wait hours to combine the photos into panoramas. Thanks to work by Paul Dille, it takes just five or 10 minutes to process each panorama. It’s enabled us to turn this into a service, not just a technology.”


Though people viewing Breathe Cam via their computers can zoom in on objects of interest, the resolution isn’t high enough to allow users to identify people. The researchers have taken pains not to compromise the privacy of individuals or their homes.


One computer vision tool will enable users to gather information from the cameras without constantly watching the images. The tool can be set to trigger when something of interest to the user, such as the release of smoke from a coke battery or smokestack, occurs. In addition to monitoring air pollution, the same tool can be used to detect train movement across the city.


With electronic cameras now commonplace, many individuals across the country already are using cameras to routinely monitor pollution sources. With Breathe Cam, Nourbakhsh noted, Carnegie Mellon and Heinz have developed a computer architecture for turning these camera feeds into an evidentiary system. He said work is underway to make such a system available to anyone who wants to share their camera feed with it. In addition, the Allegheny County Health Department and local environmental groups are partnering with CREATE Lab to use Breathe Cam technology in their efforts to monitor and improve air quality in the region.


Editors: Breathe Cam images, GIFs and video are available for download at




Carnegie Mellon University
Department of Media Relations
Carnegie Mellon University
5000 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Fax: 412-268-6929


Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon


John Ellis, Senior Director of Communications
The Heinz Endowments


About Carnegie Mellon University: Carnegie Mellon ( is a private, internationally ranked research university with programs in areas ranging from science, technology and business, to public policy, the humanities and the arts. More than 12,000 students in the university’s seven schools and colleges benefit from a small student-to-faculty ratio and an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration and innovation. A global university, Carnegie Mellon has campuses in Pittsburgh, Pa., California’s Silicon Valley and Qatar, and programs in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and Mexico.

“Snowflakes aren’t the only particles that will be falling in Downtown Pittsburgh this Christmas. A digital piece of artwork of a cascading waterfall of bright blues, pale yellows and shimmery particles will light up the outside of the Benedum Center on Penn Avenue until the end of December.”
“People walking along the sidewalk in front of the piece on Saturday night glanced up at it and its projector casually, but were more than likely unsure about the message behind it. Or unaware that at any given moment it could burst into orange and red flames. Those colors come as a result of pollutants in the air.”
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Particle Falls Sheds Light On Pollution

The Heinz Endowments’ Breathe Project today launches artist Andrea Polli’s Particle Falls, a captivating digital-media installation that provides a real-time visualization of air quality.


At a time of year when Downtown Pittsburgh is aglow with holiday lights that raise our spirits, the dazzling lights of Particle Falls are designed to raise public awareness about one of the city’s persistent challenges — air pollution.


Particle Falls, a video projection measuring approximately 60 feet by 20 feet, will illuminate the Benedum Center façade in the 700 block of Penn Avenue at Tito Way after dusk each night through Dec. 31. The projection features cascading “falls” of blue light overlaid with spots of color that represent fine particulate matter in the air detected in real-time by a monitor across the street. Fine particulate matter, also known as soot, is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets that measure just 1/30th the width of a human hair. More bright spots over the falls indicate more particles in the air.


“Pittsburgh ranks among the worst 10 percent of U.S. cities for average annual particle pollution, and our region lags far behind most areas in attaining federal standards,” said Phil Johnson, interim director of the Endowments’ Environment Program and director of the Breathe Project, a broad-based coalition working to improve air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania. “We felt it was important to bring Particle Falls to a busy Downtown corridor to engage the community in conversation about this problem and how we can work together toward solutions.”


Sources of fine particle pollution in the Pittsburgh region include cars, trucks, buses, trains, barges, construction, industrial facilities, power plants and residential wood burning. It is linked to a long list of serious health problems from cradle to grave, including asthma, heart and lung disease, cancer, adverse birth outcomes and even premature death. Exposures in Downtown Pittsburgh can be especially acute, as the rows of tall buildings create an urban canyon that traps air pollution.


Particle Falls was conceived and designed by digital-media pioneer Andrea Polli, associate professor of art and ecology at the University of New Mexico. Pittsburgh is the fourth city to host the temporary public artwork, made possible by a $62,500 grant from The Heinz Endowments. The artwork made its debut in 2008 in San Jose, Calif. Pittsburgh is the first city to use the air quality data generated by the installation for research through a partnership with scientists at the Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies at Carnegie Mellon University. Production support is being provided by the Office of Public Art and Flyspace Productions.


“It’s important to become more aware of what’s happening with our air, and to talk about it,” Polli said. “As an artist, I felt the best way to promote this dialogue was to take air pollution, something negative, and present it as a thing of beauty. I wanted to create a place that was beautiful and enjoyable to visit, but also to present particulate pollution, which is very problematic.”


Particle Falls will be open until midnight, rain or shine, through New Year’s Eve. The Office of Public Art will be on-site Tuesday and Friday evenings from 6 to 7 p.m. to provide interpretation of the artwork. Please note Particle Falls will be closed on Nov. 27 and Dec. 24-25.


On Dec. 13 from 4 to 6 p.m., an artist lecture and panel discussion will be held at the Trust Arts Education Center, 805-807 Liberty Ave., Downtown. Polli will talk about the process and technology behind Particle Falls and then join a panel discussion about air quality and public health. This event is made possible with the assistance of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. To register for this free event, visit or call 412-391-2060, ext. 237.


Video on Particle Falls:


For more information about the project and related events, visit

Students in 10 southwestern Pennsylvania counties have the opportunity to show how they could help improve the region’s air quality by participating in the 5th Annual “Let’s Clear the Air Poster Challenge” sponsored by the Southwest Pennsylvania Air Quality Partnership and Pennsylvania Resources Council.
All schools in southwestern Pennsylvania (Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington, Westmoreland, and new this year, Greene, Indiana and Lawrence counties) are invited to participate. The topic of the competition will be promoting clean air and alternative transportation.
The contest will involve students in grades 4–12 at public, parochial and private schools. Students will learn about ground-level ozone, energy conservation, ways to avoid exposure to air pollution and other topics.
In the spring, the winning posters will be displayed at local venues including shopping malls, hospitals and government buildings, as well as posted online. Top winners from each category will win a bicycle, a $100 gift certificate for their teachers to a school supply story and an Air Quality Magic Show assembly for the school.
For more information call PRC at 412-773-7156 or visit
Last year, more than 3,500 students attending 48 area schools participated in the poster contest.

The Green Workplace Challenge is back again for another year of exciting competition! If you work for a business, nonprofit, college or university, local government, or a K-12 school in southwestern Pennsylvania, sign up today to start saving money and gaining recognition for energy savings and other green initiatives that add up to cleaner air in the Pittsburgh region.
The GWC is a free competition for organizations to track and measure performance in the areas of energy, water, waste and transportation. Every action adds up to big impact. Since 2011, for example, participants saved $7.4 million in energy and enough water to fill Heinz Field 13 feet deep!
Everyone is invited to attend the GWC kickoff event on October 29 at Phipps Conservatory. Register at The deadline to sign up for the competition is January 31, 2015.

Pennsylvania’s most polluting biomass energy facilities are identified in an online map and searchable database released today by the Partnership for Policy Integrity. Funded by The Heinz Endowments, the database provides information on pollution emissions, pollution controls and permit renewal dates for companies burning wood or other biomass for fuel. The database and a report summarizing its findings are available at
“Biomass continues to be subsidized and promoted in Pennsylvania as so-called ‘clean’ energy, while the reality is that biomass burners can emit as much soot, toxins and other air pollutants into local communities as a similarly sized coal-fired burner,” said Mary Booth, director of PFPI and the author of the report. “There is no better time than ‘National Bioenergy Day’ (October 22) for people to learn the extent to which taxpayer dollars have been wasted on this highly polluting industry.”
The database contains information on more than 100 air permits for biomass energy and wood pellet manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania. Many of the facilities in the database are sawmills and other wood manufacturing facilities with biomass boilers that are allowed to emit as much or more air pollution as a same-sized coal- or oil-fired boiler.
The report includes information on the more than $69 million in federal and state subsidies and loans that was allocated in recent years for biomass-burning and wood pellet manufacturing facilities in Pennsylvania. The investigation found that of 38 companies that received support, 19 either no longer exist or have not yet received an operating permit. It is not clear what happened to the funding in these cases.
The PFPI report found that almost all biomass burners installed in recent years, including those at businesses, schools, and other institutions that have received grants and loans from the State, have permits that allow them to emit as much pollution as the older industrial biomass burners. Many are located in counties that currently do not meet air quality standards for particulate matter and ozone, and which have elevated rates of asthma in school-age children. Economic modeling highlighted in the report shows that each additional ton of particulate matter pollution emitted by these poorly controlled facilities can impose hundreds of thousands of dollars in health and environmental costs, with financial impacts greatest in counties that already have degraded air quality.
“These results tell a dismal story about Pennsylvania air permitting and the lax standards that allow even small biomass burners to be very polluting,” Booth said. “Adding to the problem, the state is subsidizing highly polluting biomass burners to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, even in counties where air pollution is already bad. Subsidizing this polluting technology is a waste of public funds, but if the state continues to award such grants, it should at least require facilities to reduce their toxic emissions.”
The PFPI report links to guidance from an allied environmental group, Pennsylvania’s Clean Air Council, that helps citizens comment on air permits to the Pennsylvania DEP. The Council has done extensive legal work to reduce pollution from commercial and residential wood-burning.
“The adverse health impacts of wood smoke are significant,” said Joseph Otis Minott, executive director of Clean Air Council. “The PFPI database is a great tool that impacted residents can use to take action in their community to protect their air quality.”

March 16, 2015
GASP holding a public meeting to discuss air quality in Lawrenceville   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 … Learn More
February 11, 2015
How is air pollution is impacting your life? Want 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 … Learn More
January 14, 2015
Moving from Climate Awareness to Climate Action   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 & … Learn More
January 7, 2015
Include air quality issues in the county’s strategic plan! 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 … Learn More
December 13, 2014
“Particle Falls” Lighting Up the Holiday Season for a Difference The Heinz Endowments’ Breathe Project today launches artist Andrea Polli’s Particle Falls, a captivating digital-media installation that provides a real-time visualization of air quality.   At a time of year when Downtown Pittsburgh is aglow with holiday lights that raise … Learn More
October 29, 2014
Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge 2014-2015 Kicks Off The Green Workplace Challenge is back again for another year of exciting competition! If you work for a business, nonprofit, college or university, local government, or a K-12 school in southwestern Pennsylvania, sign up today to start saving money and … Learn More
October 18, 2014
2014 Pittsburgh Solar Tour   Most Pittsburgh house tours showcase beautiful interiors, tasteful design, and the glitz and glamour of bygone eras. The 2014 Pittsburgh Solar Tour is a home tour for the new Pittsburgh.   Join PennFuture to experience raw solar power, energy … Learn More
October 7, 2014
“Sustainability Pioneers” Documentary Premiere   How can Pittsburgh be a leader in building the bridge from our fossil fuel-based economy to an economy based on renewable energy and sustainable living?   Filmmaker and journalist Kirsi Jansa asks this question–arguably the most critical challenge of our … Learn More
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  • The Heinz Endowments
    Megha Satyanarayana, Communications Officer
    Phone: 412-338-2616
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