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“The visible blanket of smoke from our steel days may have dissipated, but our region’s air continues to rank among the worst in the nation,” writes Liz Miles of Pop City Media.
According to Rachel Filippini, executive director of Group Against Smog and Pollution:
          “It has direct effects on public health,” she says. “Air pollution makes people sick. Clean air is all           relative. It’s not realistic to think there will ever be a safe level of air pollution. It’s not about achieving a           number on a monitor. It’s about being able to open your windows any day of the year or play outside           without it being hazardous to your health.”
          “Pittsburgh is a wonderful city with a lot of great amenities,” Filippini says. “But air quality holds us back.           People that want to relocate here think about air quality. Businesses looking to relocate here think about           it too. Other cities have had more progress more quickly, so we could definitely be more aggressive with           improving our air. Every local government official needs to have air quality on their radar because it’s           affecting their constituents’ health.”
Pop City Media: Are yinz breathing easy? The road to cleaner air in southwestern PA

For FedEx Ground, taking actions that help improve air quality is good business.


The Moon Township-based shipping company earned top prize in the large business category in the 2013-2014 Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge through extensive water and energy savings, as well as high levels of community engagement.


Paul Melander, FedEx Ground managing director of sustainability, says the challenge was an opportunity to test green initiatives that can be applied to the rest of the company.
“What makes us proud is that this is just a step in the process for us,” Melander explains. “We will continue to expand our sustainability efforts here in our hometown and beyond.”


Water and energy savings reduce air pollution generated from fossil fuel combustion.
As part of the challenge, FedEx Ground retrofitted its headquarters with high-efficiency motion and ambient sensor lighting with programmable controls that will take advantage of natural light and reduce energy during non-occupied hours. The initiative also provides the capability to take advantage of potential future demand response programs.
FedEx Ground also upgraded bathrooms, adding efficiency devices to faucets, urinals and toilets that reduced water usage by 25 percent. The company aims to implement these practices at many of its more than 560 facilities.
Delivery vehicles are part of the sustainability efforts. FedEx Ground continues to improve vehicle aerodynamics by adding trailer skirts and conducting extensive road tests with outside companies. By doing so, the company seeks to make the trucks more fuel efficient, thereby reducing harmful air emissions.
In addition, employees are enabled to use electric vehicles; as part of the Pittsburgh Region Clean Cities Energy 376 Corridor project, FedEx Ground installed two electric vehicle charging stations at its headquarters in April 2013. Melander says they are often occupied all day. “[It’s] a testament to our employees’ adoption of this technology,” he says.
Outside of the challenge, FedEx Ground continues to implement solar power throughout its network, in addition to its two existing systems at hubs in Woodbridge, New Jersey, and Rialto, California. A facility in Queens, N.Y., one in Texas and two on the East Coast will be the latest to feature large solar installations.


FedEx’s new sustainability department helps to support cross-departmental teams on the design and implementation of these green initiatives throughout the company. “It allows us to focus on multiple projects throughout our network with a clear and singular focus, whether the projects are solar, alternative fuels or waste reduction,” Melander says.
Sustainability is an increasingly important part of doing business, a shift that benefits both the environment and the company’s bottom line. “Sustainability improves efficiency and, if done properly, can save a company millions of dollars,” he says.


By Allison Keene, The Heinz Endowments Communications Intern


Pittsburgh Quarterly magazine asks some tough questions about air quality in Pittsburgh in the fall 2014 issue feature “Is better good enough?” by Jeffery Fraser.


Fraser writes:

          “…better air is not necessarily good air when evidence linking pollution to disease, disability and           premature death is considered. Health studies increasingly report stronger evidence tying lower levels of           air pollutants to respiratory ailments, cancer, cardiovascular disease and other illnesses. Exposure           standards once considered adequate to protect human health are regularly rendered obsolete in light of           new, more ominous evidence of a pollutant’s potential to harm.”

In the story, Philip Johnson, interim director of The Heinz Endowments Environment Program and director of the Breathe Project, talks about how Pittsburgh must contend with its air pollution problem as it aims to become a 21st-century city where people choose to live, play and work:
          “Pittsburgh is good at self-reference: How are we now compared to how we were? We’re better, that is           true. And usually, that’s where the conversation ends. But how are we compared to everyone else with           whom we are competing? Not good at all, relatively and absolutely. Our air is worse and our rate of           improvement is much slower.” 
         “What we have to do is ask the question, what is our future? How livable and competitive do we wish to           be? Do we want to be a place defined by its pollution and health risk, or by how clean it is and how           livable it is?” 

Pittsburgh Quarterly: Is better good enough?



Biking is a zero-emissions way to get around the city that’s good for the body and for our air quality. In celebration of Pittsburgh as a safe, bicycle-friendly city, we are proud to sponsor the Breathe Project Family Ride at Bike Pittsburgh’s PedalPGH 2014 from 10 a.m. to noon on Sunday, August 24.


This novice, all-ages ride starts at Southside Riverfront Park and offers up to 12 miles of flat, car-free trails. There’ll be a water stop for participants at Golden Triangle Bike Rental on the trail, as well as a rest stop to enjoy some great snacks by Whole Foods at the start/finish line area–and maybe even a sweet surprise or two along the way.


Bike2Whenever you decide to end your ride, stop by the REI finish line festival at the Southside Riverfront Park from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Everyone is welcome to stay and enjoy the day, with restrooms, bike parking (bring a lock), music, food, a cycling expo and a free photo booth.


Click here to register. Proceeds go to Bike Pittsburgh to help fund safer streets for cyclists and pedestrians in Pittsburgh

Levin Furniture is no couch potato when it comes to cleaner air.


Eight years into its efforts to become a more sustainable company, the furniture retailer recently expanded its green initiatives by participating in the 2013-2014 Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge. By saving energy, water and other resources, the company helped reduce air quality impacts–and improved its bottom line.




Levin revamped office and warehouse policy to incorporate extensive recycling programs that salvage cardboard, plastic, office equipment, machine batteries, glass, electronics and other materials. It also replaced incandescent lighting with LED motion-sensor bulbs in its warehouse and 27 retail locations across Pittsburgh and Cleveland—a switch that has saved more than 105 kWh of energy in just over a year.


The resulting energy savings, combined with efforts to clean up company cars and reduce the waste dumped into landfills, earned Levin Furniture a sixth-place finish in the medium business category of the Green Workplace Challenge. The challenge is a yearlong competition hosted by Sustainable Pittsburgh that encourages area organizations to save money and gain recognition for implementing green practices.


Rich2Operations manager Rich Permuka says Levin is proud of these efforts, spurred by the sustainability goals of third-generation family owner Robert Levin. Becoming green is not only environmentally and socially responsible, he explains, but also benefits Levin financially.


For instance, maintenance costs are much lower on the new LED light bulbs, which last an average of 17 years. Changing burned-out incandescent bulbs in the 300,000-square-foot warehouse had been a constant job for Levin’s maintenance staff.


“[Maintenance is] really something that folks don’t even think about,” Permuka says. “But you have to add it into your cost savings because it’s huge.”


Recycling is also financially beneficial, according to Permuka. Materials such as plastics, cardboard and glass can be re-sold to other manufacturers, paying for the extra labor costs that often prevent companies from implementing recycling programs in the first place.


“There definitely is economic value in recycling the product, but again, it’s making the process easy,” Permuka says. “You almost have to build it into your processes, and it will more than pay for itself in the end.”


Some recycling programs, such as cardboard and plastic, involve employees sorting materials at the warehouse. For others, recycling is a more complex process. Levin’s Styrofoam densifier machine deconstructed, compressed and repackaged 80,000 pounds of Styrofoam last year. Levin sold the cubes to a manufacturer for four cents a pound. Instead of adding to a landfill, the Styrofoam is now being used as insulation behind the vinyl siding of buildings. The Styrofoam was part of the 1.8 million pounds of product that Levin recycled last year.


Other Levin green initiatives include eliminating the use of Styrofoam dishware, using only natural cleaning products and replacing company cars with hybrid Toyota Camrys that average 40 miles per gallon. Eventually, Levin hopes to replace its diesel trucks with alternative fuel vehicles to decrease harmful air emissions.


Such efforts make Levin a responsible partner in the community and demonstrate the company’s commitment to sustainability, a characteristic that is appealing in a changing consumer culture, Permuka says.


“Maybe the culture 20 years ago was ‘Hey, we’ve got to have this product without considering the environmental impact,’ and I think today we all look at things a lot differently,” he says. “As the culture is changing, folks are demanding environmentally responsible processes.”


He says it is important for Pittsburgh and its suburbs to be a greener in order to remain an attractive, healthy place to live and work for future generations.


“The folks will not want to relocate into the Pittsburgh area if the air and the water quality is not very good,” Permuka says. “We’re all responsible for that. Every manufacturer, every company is responsible for keeping it that way. ”

– By Allison Keene, The Heinz Endowments Communications Intern

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold public hearings for the Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule the week of July 28 in four locations across the U.S., including Pittsburgh. The hearings will provide interested parties the opportunity to present data, views or arguments concerning the proposed action.


Registration is already filled for the July 31 hearing scheduled for 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the William S. Moorhead Federal Building, Room 1310, 1000 Liberty Avenue, Downtown Pittsburgh. EPA has extended the hearings for a second day to accommodate additional speakers. Click here to register for the August 1 hearing date.


The Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule was issued June 2 as a way to cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. Power plants are the largest source of carbon pollution in the U.S., accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions


According to EPA, the proposal also will cut pollution that leads to soot and smog by over 25 percent in 2030. A recent study by Syracuse and Harvard universities shows western Pennsylvania could stand to benefit greatly in terms of estimated decrease in fine particulate matter due to cuts in carbon pollution output that would be mandated under the proposed rule.


The Clean Power Plan will lead to climate and health benefits worth an estimated $55 billion to $93 billion in 2030, including avoiding 2,700 to 6,600 premature deaths and 140,000 to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, federal estimates show.


For more information about the proposed rule, read the proposal and fact sheets from EPA.



Clean Water Action this week is hosting members of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York (CACWNY) to share their story of community effort to reduce harmful emissions from the Tonawanda Coke plant, an industrial facility with a heinous track record of air pollution violations.


At Pittsburgh events on July 17 and 18, you’ll be able to hear firsthand how the community in western New York banded together to win big cuts in the plant’s toxic benzene emissions. Their actions resulted in the largest fine ever levied in an air pollution case involving a federal criminal trial. You’ll also learn what you can do to get involved in the fight for clean air in Pittsburgh.


On Thursday, July 17 at 6:30 p.m., members of CACWNY will be visiting the Mon Valley to meet with residents there and to share their stories. The event will be held at the Liberty Borough fire hall at 900 Haslage Street.


A community breakfast and roundtable discussion with the CACWNY representatives will take place on July 18 from 8 to 9:30 a.m. at the Bellevue United Presbyterian Church at 457 Lincoln Street in Bellevue.


Click here for more information or to RSVP. Contact Cassi Steenblock at Clean Water Action with any questions at 412-765-3053 or



After a year of friendly, but intense competition, the winners of Sustainable Pittsburgh’s Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge were announced last night at an awards ceremony at Chatham University.


More than 100 forward-thinking businesses and organizations in our region took a total of 1,668 actions that resulted in improved energy efficiency and reduced water use as part of the challenge. Participants were required to measure and provide verification of their actions, earning points along the way. Actions cover a variety of topics, such as reducing energy and water use to working with employees to incorporate more carpooling or bike riding in their daily commutes.


The competition demonstrates how what’s good for our air is good for our economy, and the proof is in the numbers. From June 2013 to May 2014, Green Workplace Challenge participants saved 37.3 million kWh of energy, the equivalent of roughly 3,308 U.S. households’ annual electricity use worth more than $3 million.


This is approximately equal to the amount of energy used each year by homes in Friendship, Glen Hazel, Polish Hill, the Bluff and Regent Square combined. They also saved more than 5.4 million gallons of water on an annual basis–enough to turn Heinz Field into a wading pool of water 10 inches deep and the amount used by 57 typical U.S. households in a year.

These tremendous energy and water savings translated into cleaner air in Pittsburgh — specifically a reduction in emissions of 2.7 tons of fine particulate matter; 22.6 tons of NOx (an air pollutant and precursor to ozone); 110,1 tons of sulfur dioxide; 960 tons of nitrous oxide (a potent greenhouse gas); and 1.65 pounds of toxic mercury.


Top scorers included Oxford Development Company (observer category); Conservation Consultants, Inc. (small nonprofit); ALCOSAN (medium nonprofit); University of Pittsburgh  (universities); Allegheny County (municipal and local government); Pashek Associates (small business); DMI Companies (medium business); and FedEx Ground (large business). Special awards were presented for the Top Energy Saver (Conservation Consultants, Inc., with a 22 percent reduction) and the Top Water Saver (ALCOSAN, with a 76 percent reduction).


“The organizations that have participated in the Green Workplace Challenge once again illustrate that each action to save resources contributes to a larger effort that makes a large impact–and our region moves along toward a more sustainable path with each and every effort,” said Matt Mehalik, program manager for Sustainable Pittsburgh.


Clean air kudos to all the winners and participants in the Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge. We celebrate your achievements and leadership, and look forward to what the next round of the competition will bring!

The Allegheny County Health Department is offering companies and municipalities in or around Neville Island the opportunity to upgrade their diesel fleets at little or no cost and help improve local air quality. The department has established a program supported by a $750,000 grant from the Allegheny County Clean Air Fund to reduce toxic diesel particulate emissions on Neville Island, a heavily industrialized area that is home to numerous diesel fleets.


The program provides up to 100 percent funding for diesel retrofits, which include the installation of particulate filters and oxidation catalysts. Retrofits work by filtering diesel equipment’s exhaust emissions and reducing harmful pollutants before they are emitted.


Up to 75 percent funding is available for diesel engine repowers and rebuilds. Repowering is the process of installing a newer, cleaner engine to replace an older one, which greatly extends the life of the equipment and dramatically reduces its emissions. Rebuilding is the process of restoring an engine to its original manufacturing standard or a more recent standard, thereby increasing fuel efficiency and reducing emissions.


Grants are available for both on-road and off-road diesel equipment. To be eligible, applicants must be headquartered on Neville Island or operate within an adjacent community.


For more information or to submit an application, visit or contact Alaina Conner at or 412-578-8106.

When Sto-Rox High School science teacher Joe Krajcovic realized a diesel generator that powered a rooftop wireless tower was exhausting into his classroom, he knew it was a serious problem. He could smell the noxious odor of the diesel fumes on several occasions and grew concerned about potential health impacts to his students and fellow staff.

He was right to worry. Diesel exhaust is a complex mixture of thousands of gases and fine particles that contains dozens of toxic air contaminants, many of which are known or suspected to cause cancer like benzene, arsenic and formaldehyde. It also contains other harmful pollutants, including nitrogen oxides (a component of urban smog). As we breathe, diesel exhaust penetrates deep into the lungs, contributing to myriad immediate and long-term health effects—including lung disease, asthma attacks, cancer and even premature death.

“Having a diesel generator exhausting this close to and into a school building creates unhealthy air and health risks for students, staff and administration and everyone in the building,” Krajcovic said.


The generator also bordered an athletic field, where student athletes take in disproportionately larger volumes of air (and any contaminants it contains) as they breathe more rapidly than usual during practice and games.

The school administration moved Krajcovic’s classroom away from the strong fumes, although no doubt the exhaust dissipated throughout the building. To help demonstrate the risk posed to the school by ongoing use of the diesel generator, Krajcovic then worked with researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab and the Department of Mechanical Engineering to monitor air quality inside his classroom.

He used a low-cost particulate monitor called a Speck developed by the CREATE Lab for citizen science and exposure tracking. The device measures airborne particulates that are 2.5 microns in diameter—approximately 1/30th the average width of a human hair.


Screen Shot 2014-06-11 at 2.39.46 PM Over a period of 10 days in February, particle concentrations in Krajcovic’s classroom ranged between 6,000 and 30,000. In a room with acceptable indoor air quality, the particle count is typically between 50-250 particles.


“These readings were extremely high and presented very big health concerns that put students, staff and administration in the building at risk,” he said.

The highest readings occurred at times when the diesel generator was operating. Conversely, particle counts dropped off at times when the generator was shut down.

Krajcovic filed a grievance through his union, the Pennsylvania State Education Association, and presented his findings to the school board and administration. He then called Tom Hoffman, western Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action, who talked about the health risks associated with diesel exhaust. A few days after the hearing, Krajcovic was told that his grievance was successful and the generator would be moved.


“This is good news for the students and staff at Sto-Rox High School, and I commend Mr. Krajcovic for taking the necessary steps to protect the health of those in the building, ” Hoffman said. “Every child deserves to breathe clean air at school and every teacher deserves the same in the workplace.”

August 24, 2014
Breathe Project Family Ride at PedalPGH   Biking is a zero-emissions way to get around the city that’s good for the body and for our air quality. In celebration of Pittsburgh as a safe, bicycle-friendly city, we are proud to sponsor the Breathe Project Family Ride at Bike … Learn More
July 31, 2014
EPA to Hold Pittsburgh Hearings on Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will hold public hearings for the Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule the week of July 28 in four locations across the U.S., including Pittsburgh. The hearings will provide interested parties the opportunity to present data, … Learn More
July 17, 2014
Clean Water Action to Host N.Y. Group with Big Victory in Fight for Cleaner Air Clean Water Action this week is hosting members of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York (CACWNY) to share their story of community effort to reduce harmful emissions from the Tonawanda Coke plant, an industrial facility with a heinous … Learn More
October 5, 2014
Save the Date: Clean Air Dash 5K Save the date and start logging those training miles! The Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) second annual Clean Air Dash 5K on the South Side’s Three Rivers Heritage Trail will be here before you know it. The fast, flat and … Learn More
July 1, 2014
Public Hearing: Allegheny County Open Burning Regulations The Allegheny County Health Department will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, July 1 at 10 a.m. in the first floor conference room at Building #7 of the Clack Health Center, 301 39th Street, Lawrenceville, to take testimony on proposed … Learn More
June 6, 2014
Portraits of Air: Pittsburgh   What if you could easily see the invisible particles in the air you breathe?   It can happen through a visual arts exhibition opening next month in conjunction with the 2014 Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival.   From … Learn More
May 16, 2014
A Regional Summit on Asthma in Our Community You’d be hard pressed to find someone in the Pittsburgh area who doesn’t either have asthma or have a friend or loved one struggling with asthma.   What’s the connection between our region’s poor air quality and asthma–and what challenges … Learn More
April 4, 2014
Ride Against Smog and Pollution   Whether you hit the trails or the roads, bike riding in Pittsburgh is a fabulous way to see the sights, commute and get a little exercise–not to mention, it’s a zero-emissions form of transportation.   When you ride, you … Learn More
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