Mail Icon Facebook Icon Twitter Icon Share
NEWS & EVENTS
Subscribe to rss news feed  

 

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

 

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.

 
“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 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

 

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?

Nearly 150 health professionals, civic leaders, parents, environmental advocates, teachers and community members gathered on May 16 to talk about the impact of Pittsburgh’s air quality relative to the high prevalence of asthma in our region.
 
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Summit highlights poor control of asthma here
Pittsburgh Business Times: Pittsburgh air quality still a problem, UPMC doctor says
90.5 FM WESA: Asthma in the region examined in summit for World Asthma Month

People living in a 10-county region of southwestern Pennsylvania have a significantly higher than acceptable risk of developing cancer due to exposure to toxic air pollution released by manufacturing processes, energy production and diesel combustion, according to a new report by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities.

 

The Pittsburgh Regional Environmental Threats Analysis Report—funded by The Heinz Endowments—analyzes publicly available data on hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), also known as air toxics. Air toxics include approximately 200 pollutants identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as known or suspected to cause cancer or other serious health effects, such as respiratory, neurological and reproductive disorders. The report is the third in a series as part of a project examining major threats to human health and the environment in southwestern Pennsylvania.

 

“While the region as a whole experiences a constant burden of air toxics, the report found that people living in Allegheny County have a cancer risk more than twice—and in some cases 20 times—that of those living in surrounding rural areas,” said senior author James Fabisiak, associate professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “In fact, the county ranks in the top 2 percent of U.S. counties in terms of cancer risk from hazardous air pollutants.”

 

A group of Pittsburgh-area environmental groups is calling for rapid action from local health and air quality officials based on the findings of this report. They are asking the Allegheny County Health Department, City of Pittsburgh and other regional authorities to implement the following recommendations in light of report findings and share the resulting information with the community:

 

1) Implement and enforce Pittsburgh’s Clean Construction Law, which requires publicly funded development projects in the City of Pittsburgh to reduce diesel emissions from their project construction vehicles, and encourage eligible contractors working in the City of Pittsburgh to apply for the Small Construction Contractors Retrofit Program to assist them in paying for emission reduction technologies.

 

2) Enforce rigorous application of Allegheny County’s updated Air Toxics Guidelines to all permits for facilities connected to hydraulic fracturing.

 

3) Ensure the Allegheny County Health Department’s upcoming SO2 State Implementation Plan includes strong control measures for coke ovens.

 

4) Attend a special Sustainable Development Academy briefing program in mid 2014 for the region’s county executives, commissioners, and mayors of large municipal governments and of the highest cancer risk localities to inform public officials of the PRETA report’s findings that the region ranks in the highest percentiles for air quality cancer risk and that there are helpful recommendations for reducing these threats to public health.

 

Read more:

 

WTAE: Allegheny County Ranks High For Bad Air 

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Report – Allegheny County in Top 2 Percent in U.S. For Cancer Risks From Air Pollution

90.5 WESA: You Could Be 20 Times More Likely To Get Cancer in Allegheny County, Study Says

KDKA: Pittsburgh Region Cancer Risk Is Among Highest In The Nation

CBS Pittsburgh: New Study Shows Allegheny Co. Residents Have Higher Cancer Risk

Pittsburgh Business Times: Pittsburgh Region’s Air Pollution, Cancer Risk High

ThinkProgress: Pittsburgh’s Unique Air Pollution Makes Its Residents More Susceptible to Cancer, Study Says

Allegheny Front: Study: Pittsburgh Air Among The Nation’s Worst

Trib Total Media (McKeesport Daily News): Allegheny County Dwellers Have Greater Risk of Cancer, Pitt Study Finds

Pitt News: Air Study Finds Elevated Cancer Risk in Oakland

events
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
See all events
latest on facebook
  • Breathe Project

    Today's #airquality: Ok today, heading into moderate tomorrow. #whatibreathe

    Jun 29th 12:00pm • No Comments

    #lunchfun: @EPA has released this cool map tool. #airquality indicators, environmental justice indicators, etc.
    http://1.usa.gov/1RM2CK0

    EJSCREEN

    ejscreen.epa.gov

    Jun 29th 11:54am • No Comments

    #mondayagain: Happy #4thofjuly week! Thanks to all our new followers, and everyone who reposts, engages and roots for Pittsburgh!

    Jun 29th 11:24am • No Comments

    A "community bill of rights" and how one PA town is using it to fight fracking. http://reut.rs/1RLNhsI

    Green group's unconventional fight against fracking

    www.reuters.com

    The residents of Grant Township, Pennsylvania, were worried about Little Mahoning Creek, a picturesque trout stream best fished in the spring when the water runs fast. The Pennsylvania General Energy

    Jun 29th 10:40am • No Comments

    Hi folks -
    We've gotten a couple of comments that people aren't seeing Breathe Project posts. So, please, share this post, and help us reach the people who aren't seeing us regularly on Facebook.

    If Breathe posts aren't showing up in your news feed, do this:

    1. Come to the Breathe Project page.
    2. Click or hover your mouse over the "Like" or "Liked" button at the bottom of the banner photo (see the image below.)
    3. A drop down should appear - make sure "Get Notifications" and "Following" are checked.

    This should solve some of problem. If you have any other questions about this, comment below and we'll investigate. We post alot of stuff and we want you to be able to see it all. Thanks.

    Jun 18th 11:06am • 3 Comments

  • Press Contact
  • The Heinz Endowments
    Megha Satyanarayana, Communications Officer
    Phone: 412-338-2616
    Email: meghas@heinz.org
  • JOIN OUR COALITION Be part of the growing movement for clean air in the Pittsburgh region.
    Thank you for your support! Look for our updates in your email box. Please share this initiative with others who would be interested in joining as well:
    CONNECT WITH US
    Today's Air Quality Forecast:
    Moderate
    Tomorrow's Forecast:
    Moderate
    Learn More About AQI >
    CONTACT
    © Breathe Project 2014. All Rights Reserved.
    Terms of Service
    Privacy Policy
    Learn More