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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.

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

Pittsburgh, Nov. 21, 2013 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.”


The report also found that census tracts with the very highest risk levels are clustered in the southeastern corner of Allegheny County in the heavily industrialized Liberty-Clairton area, as well as in the neighborhoods downwind from Neville Island and Downtown Pittsburgh.


“This study reinforces in sobering detail what we already know: The Pittsburgh region still has one of the most serious air pollution problems in the country,” Endowments President Robert Vagt said. “Our aspirations for truly becoming the most livable city cannot be realized if our health and environment are threatened by dangerous levels of air toxics, which is why the work of the Breathe Project coalition to solve this problem is one of our highest priorities.”


The top cancer drivers from hazardous air pollutants in southwestern Pennsylvania include diesel particulate matter, formaldehyde, benzene and coke oven emissions, according to the report, which uses the latest available EPA National Air Toxics Assessment data. Lesser, but still significant risk, is posed by carbon tetrachloride, acetaldehyde, arsenic and chromium.


Using data from previous direct monitoring of pollution in three Allegheny County locations (Downtown, Oakland and South Fayette), the report noted that air toxics released from stationary point sources, such as the coke works in Clairton and on Neville Island, pose a greater cancer risk over a wide geographic area extending miles beyond the factories where they are emitted.


In addition, unprecedented expansion of unconventional natural gas development using horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and the Shell Chemical ethane cracker facility proposed for Monaca, Beaver County, are examples of new and potential sources of hazardous air pollutants identified in the report.


“This report underscores three of the major air quality challenges facing the region—diesel emissions, large point sources and a potential transforming pollutant mixture from unconventional natural gas drilling operations,” said lead author Drew Michanowicz, a Pitt Public Health research assistant. “Our findings serve to better focus our future research efforts, as well as support response actions by community-based advocacy groups and other stakeholders to meet these challenges.”


Additional authors on the report include Kyle Ferrar, Samantha Malone, Matt Kelso and Jill Kriesky, all of, or formerly of, Pitt Public Health.


The report is publicly available at and a printed copy can be obtained by contacting Carmen Lee at 412-338-2628 or



Public health and local economy benefit from recipients’ work on clean-air initiatives


Pittsburgh, Sept. 3, 2013 — The Breathe Project today has presented its first-ever Breathe Awards, honoring individuals, businesses and organizations in the Pittsburgh region for their outstanding accomplishments with initiatives to improve air quality. The new awards program celebrates innovative work to help clean the air in southwestern Pennsylvania and highlights efforts to raise awareness about air quality issues.


Winners were recognized during a 2:30 p.m. ceremony at the Hill House Association in the Hill District and presented with their awards by legendary former Pittsburgh Steelers running back and entrepreneur Franco Harris, a member of the Breathe Project Leadership Group. Also speaking was Bill Flanagan, executive vice president, corporate relations for the Allegheny Conference on Community Development and host of Our Region’s Business. The Breathe Project will award a $1,000 grant in the name of each Breathe Award winner to a nonprofit organization of their choosing whose work helps to improve the lives of children with asthma.


“Pittsburgh’s history is marked by innovations that have made our community cleaner, healthier and more prosperous,” said Robert Vagt, president of The Heinz Endowments, which launched the Breathe Project in 2011 as a philanthropic environmental health initiative. “These Breathe Award winners are continuing that tradition, proving that Pittsburgh ingenuity and hard work are more than a match for the challenges we face as we move toward our clean-air future. We applaud their dedication to our health and economy and their example-setting leadership in their fields.”


   The first Breathe Award winners include:


PITT OHIO, Strip District-based transportation solutions provider
= Global Links, Green Tree medical relief and development organization
= Brian Brown, community organizer, Hill District Consensus Group


PITT OHIO has demonstrated commitment to improving our air quality by operating a modern, well-maintained fleet of trucks, tractor trailers and vans; leveraging on-board computers to measure MPG (miles per gallon) per truck, terminal and region; requiring progressive and proper shifting and speed management; instituting anti-idling policies; retrofitting company facilities to reduce energy and water consumption; and participating in the Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partner program to reduce air pollution in freight delivery.


Global Links has shown leadership in air quality improvement by retrofitting its trucks in 2011 to run on locally produced biofuel, which reduced its use of diesel by nearly 50 percent. Global Links also has worked with partner PITT OHIO to utilize trucking “back haul” space to grow its programs without generating new emissions. Coordinating supply orders across its programs has reduced air pollution by cutting vehicle miles traveled. In addition, the organization is a Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge participant and has moved its facilities to a remodeled space in Green Tree with natural and LED lighting, a new HVAC system and other “green” features designed to cut energy consumption.


Brian Brown is being honored with a Breathe Award for his tireless volunteer efforts at multiple events to educate the public about air quality in the Pittsburgh area and everyday ways people can take action to help clean our air. He also dedicated his time to this year’s New Voices of Youth program, an online grant contest of The Pittsburgh Foundation to engage middle and high school students in air quality issues.


“The Breathe Project is striving to move Pittsburgh’s air quality from the ranks of the worst in the nation to the ranks of the best,” said Marily Nixon, Breathe Project coordinator. “The impressive contributions of these award winners are leading us toward a tomorrow when everybody our region has clean, healthy air to breathe everyday.”

May 7 World Asthma Day Event Includes First-Ever Review of Scientific Literature on Health Impacts of Air Pollution in Pittsburgh, Finding Serious Implications for Area Residents


PITTSBURGH – Local and national health experts are convening in Pittsburgh on May 7 for the second annual regional Summit on asthma and other health concerns associated with poor air quality. The day-long symposium will address Pittsburgh’s asthma epidemic, as well as newly presented findings about how air pollution affects birth outcomes, cancer and cardiopulmonary illness and mortality rates.


Organized by Allegheny General Hospital (AGH) and the Breathe Project, with the support of The Heinz Endowments and the Suburban Health Foundation, “The Air We Breathe: A Regional Summit on Asthma and Other Health Impacts of Air Pollution” will be held from 7:45 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Pittsburgh Marriott City Center in Downtown Pittsburgh.


Highlights of the Summit will include a presentation on the first-ever review of the scientific literature over the past 40 years on the health effects of air pollution in the Pittsburgh region.


Conducted by environmental health expert Ron White of R.H. White Consultants Inc., senior associate at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the review found that exposure to excessive air pollution in the region has led to serious health problems across the human life cycle. Impacts start with preterm births and low birth weights and continue to premature death. These impacts affect the most vulnerable groups–children, the elderly, and those with existing heart and lung disease–but research shows that they also affect the rest of the community. White will speak at 2:15 p.m.


“Despite improvements over the past few decades, our region’s air still ranks among the dirtiest in the nation, with pollution levels high enough to harm our health,” said Deborah Gentile, MD, Director of Research, in AGH’s Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.


“We know, for example, that two Pittsburgh-area school districts have asthma rates that are among the worst in the entire state. But the public also needs to be aware of the wide-ranging impacts of air pollution beyond asthma—in birth outcomes, cardiopulmonary illness and premature death,” said Dr. Gentile, who is also co-director of the Summit along with Sergei Belenky, MD, PhD, Medical Director, Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology at Pediatric Alliance, Pittsburgh.


“People may be surprised and disappointed at what these experts have to say about the many ways air pollution in our region is affecting our health,” said Robert Vagt, president of The Heinz Endowments, which is co-supporting the Summit along with the Suburban Health Foundation. “The ability to improve health, especially that of children and older adults, is what has motivated 150 organizations and businesses—and nearly twenty thousand southwestern Pennsylvanians to join the Breathe Project. This strong coalition is monitoring these serious problems and working to clean our air, thus supporting healthy families and communities.”


The Summit’s keynote speaker is Joel Schwartz, PhD, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology at the Harvard University School of Public Health. Internationally recognized for his pioneering research on the effects of leaded gas on children, as well as the health impacts of particulate air pollution, and winner of a prestigious MacArthur “genius grant,” Dr. Schwartz will speak at 11:30 a.m. on the topic “Morbidity and Mortality Effects of Air Pollution.”


Dr. Schwartz’s innovative research on the health costs of lead in gasoline led to a ban on this dangerous additive in the 1980s. He went on to study the relationship between particle pollution and deaths in nearby Steubenville, Ohio, and found that pneumonia, lung disease and heart attack mortality rose along with levels of particulate pollution, even when those levels were within EPA standards. Dr. Schwartz’s groundbreaking work has distinguished him among the most cited authors in the world in the field of air pollution research, with more than 454 peer-reviewed papers published as of July 2011, which at that time were cited more than 23,000 times in other peer-reviewed publications.


A panel of local and national experts will discuss cutting-edge work to address asthma and other air pollution-related health outcomes in our community.


=Epidemic of Asthma in Pittsburgh, 8:00 a.m. with Dr. Gentile

=Asthma Control Strategies, 8:10 a.m. with Dr. Belenky

=Origins of Asthma, 8:30 a.m. with Giovanni Piedimonte, MD, Chairman of the Pediatric Institute and Physician in Chief, Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital

=Problem Based Learning: Balancing Safety and Efficacy of Asthma Therapy, 9:30 with David P. Skoner, MD, Director, Division of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Allegheny General Hospital.

=Effect of Air Pollution on Asthma Outcomes in Pittsburgh, 10:45 a.m. with Luann Brink, PhD, MPH, Visiting Assistant Professor, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

=Effect of Air Pollution on Birth Outcomes in Pittsburgh, 1:00 p.m with Evelyn Talbott, DrPh, MPH, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health

=Effect of Air Pollution on Morbidity and Mortality in Pittsburgh, 1:30 p.m. with Francesca Dominici, PhD, Professor of Biostatistics, Associate Dean for Information Technology, Harvard University School of Public Health

=State-of-the-Art Air Pollution Mapping in Pittsburgh, 2:45 p.m. with Albert Presto, PhD, Assistant Research Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University


The Air We Breathe Summit is intended for internal medicine and family practice physicians, pediatricians, physician’s assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses, asthma specialists, pulmonary specialists, cardiac specialists, obstetricians, public health specialists and members of the community.


Those who wish to attend the Summit can register online at or can contact the AGH Continuing Medical Education office for more information at (412) 359-4952 or by e-mail:



Organization’s Participants Include Environmental Organizations, Philanthropic Foundations, and Energy Companies


PITTSBURGH, Pa., March 20, 2013 – A group of leading environmental organizations, philanthropic foundations, and energy companies have collaborated to form a unique center to provide producers with certification of performance standards for shale development. The Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD) has established 15 initial performance standards designed to ensure safe and environmentally responsible development of the Appalachian Basin’s abundant shale gas resources. These standards will form the foundation of the CSSD’s independent, third-party certification process.


“CSSD is the result of an unprecedented effort that brought together a group of stakeholders with diverse perspectives, working to create responsible performance standards and a rigorous, third-party evaluation process for shale gas operations,” said Robert Vagt, president of The Heinz Endowments. “This process has demonstrated for us that industry and environmental organizations, working together, can identify shared values and find common ground on standards that are environmentally protective.”


CSSD’s founding participants are:


=Clean Air Task Force
=CONSOL Energy
=Environmental Defense Fund
=EQT Corporation
=Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP)
=Heinz Endowments
=Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture)
=Pennsylvania Environmental Council
=William Penn Foundation


Technical support has been provided by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, ICF International, and the law firm of Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott.


“While shale development has been controversial, everyone agrees that, when done, producers must minimize environmental risk,” said Armond Cohen, Executive Director, Clean Air Task Force.  “These standards are the state of the art on how to accomplish that goal, so we believe all Appalachian shale producers should join CSSD, and the standards should also serve as a model for national policy and practice.”


Through discussions over the past two years, CSSD participants established a shared vision of performance and environmental risk minimization for natural gas development in the Appalachian region.  The group’s participants have worked to adopt a set of progressive and rigorous performance standards based on today’s understanding of the risks associated with natural gas development and the technological capacity to minimize those risks.


“CSSD is focusing on the establishment of standards that will initially address the protection of air and water quality and climate, and will be expanded to include other performance standards such as safety,” said Nicholas J. DeIuliis, President, CONSOL Energy. “Fundamentally, the aim is for these standards to represent excellence in performance.”


Companies can begin seeking certification in these areas later this year.


CSSD also plans to develop programs to share best practices.


“Raising the bar on performance and committing to public, rigorous and verifiable standards demonstrates our companies’ determination to develop this resource safely and responsibly,” said Bruce Niemeyer, President of Chevron Appalachia.  “Throughout the development of CSSD, the collaborative effort of environmental organizations, foundations and energy companies has been the key to achieving consensus on regional performance standards.”


“This initiative is an important complement to strong regulatory frameworks.  It’s also a model of the regional collaborations recommended by the Shale Gas Production Subcommittee of the U.S. Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board to help drive a process of continuous improvement,” said Jared Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon University and a member of CSSD’s Board of Directors.


“While the potential economic and environmental benefits of shale gas are substantial, the public expects transparency, accountability and a fundamental commitment to environmental safety and the protection of human health from the companies operating throughout the region. CSSD is a sound step toward assuring the public that shale development is being done to the requisite standards of excellence,” said Paul O’Neill, former Secretary of the Treasury and retired Chairman of Pittsburgh-based Alcoa and a member of CSSD’s Board of Directors.


About Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD)

Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, CSSD is an independent organization whose mission is to support continuous improvement and innovative practices through performance standards and third-party certification. Focused on shale development in the Appalachian Basin, the Center provides a forum for a diverse group of stakeholders to share expertise with the common objective of developing solutions and serving as the center of excellence for shale gas development.


Funded by philanthropic foundations and participating energy companies, CSSD is intended to promote collaborative efforts by industry and its stakeholders called for by the Shale Gas Production Subcommittee of the U.S. Secretary of Energy’s Advisory Board.

The Breathe Project has teamed with The Pittsburgh Foundation in an online youth engagement program for local middle and high school students.


The program, known as New Voices of Youth, the fourth of its kind for The Pittsburgh Foundation, gives young people in southwestern Pennsylvania an opportunity to make their voices heard about important community issues that affect their lives. Participants in this year’s program are being asked to develop projects that raise awareness about air quality challenges in the Pittsburgh area and help to clean the region’s air.


“Young people are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution because they tend to spend more time outdoors and their lungs are still developing,” said Grant Oliphant, president and CEO of The Pittsburgh Foundation. “We are excited to work with the Breathe Project to deliver information and encouragement that will allow youth to take a lead role in providing solutions for cleaner air.”


In the fall of 2011, The Heinz Endowments launched the Breathe Project, a coalition made up of businesses, including heavy metals manufacturers and power producers; environmental nonprofits; government; civic organizations; and individuals working to improve air quality for healthy families and a stronger economy. The New Voices of Youth program will help to engage youth as agents of change in this growing movement to achieve a clean-air future for southwestern Pennsylvania.


“Thankfully, much of the highly visible pollution that earned Pittsburgh the title of ‘Smoky City’ a century ago is long gone,” said Endowments President Robert Vagt. “But with the dangerous health effects of pollutants better quantified, the region has not kept up with more stringent standards and its air quality ranks among the worst in the nation.” Vagt said the broad coalition that achieved a dramatic turnaround in air quality in the 1940s and 1950s must be re-activated to achieve the same success in this decade. “Young people as a group are essential to this effort,” said Vagt. “They are more attuned to the issues than many other groups and they understand the change that is possible with group action.”


Participants will work with adult mentors to design projects that increase awareness and take action for cleaner air in the Pittsburgh region. Projects also can create first-time opportunities for young people to participate as volunteers or in a service-learning opportunity to improve our air quality.


Detailed information about the program, including resources for teachers and an educational toolkit about air quality, is available at a special website developed as a hub to support the initiative at


Entries should be submitted at the site. The closing date for the first round of entries is May 8, 2013. Regular updates will be posted on the New Voices of Youth website detailing progress on student projects.


A Student Advisory Council composed of 15 local high school students will meet periodically to review entries and select finalists. Top entries are eligible for up to $2,500 in grant funding from The Pittsburgh Foundation to turn their ideas into action in this hands-on approach to community philanthropy.


Young people are also encouraged to participate in an online forum on the site by sharing photographs, essays, artwork, ideas and comments that may help improve submitted entries and inspire new projects.


The Voices of Youth series of competitions kicked off in 2009 with Art in Public, and was followed by two additional competitions encouraging youth and youth-serving organizations to create change.


“We are excited to continue working with our area youth on ideas to better our community with the New Voices of Youth,” said Oliphant.

Air quality improvement at center of $1.6 million fund managed by Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Management Association 


The Allegheny County Health Department and the Breathe Project, a wide-ranging coalition dedicated to raising the region’s air quality from the worst to the best in the country, are funding a second round of the Small Construction Contractors Retrofit Program. Applications are now accepted.


The program, managed by the Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Management Association, provides grants to small business construction companies seeking assistance in reducing costs of retrofitting construction equipment with the latest emissions-reduction technologies. Small construction companies whose business operations have been located in Allegheny County (including the city of Pittsburgh) for the past three years are eligible.


The first round, which began in February and was completed in September, produced six applicant companies. Their awards, expected to total about $500,000, will be issued in the next two months as technical requirements are completed. The new round of grants will cover as many as 30 projects ranging from $10,000 to $100,000, the maximum allowed under the program rules.


Construction activity and diesel exhaust from construction equipment contribute to smog, acid rain, climate change and a range of health problems.  Poor air quality has been associated with increased respiratory symptoms such as asthma and other adverse health effects that include heart and lung disease and an increased risk of premature death.


“This grant project will lead to significant improvement in air quality in the region over time,” said Caren Glotfelty, senior director of the Environment Program at The Heinz Endowments, a Breathe Project coalition sponsor and contributor of the retrofit fund.  “And there will be dramatic reductions in harmful emissions in neighborhoods and public thoroughfares where construction projects are under way.”


The funding pool and administrative expenses for the new round of grants comes from two $920,000 grants–one from the Endowments, the other from the Allegheny County Health Department.


“In Allegheny County, diesel exhaust contributes more cancer risk than fixed industrial sources,” said Dr. Ron Voorhees, acting health department director. “This project will help reduce air pollution-related health risks.”


Non-road construction equipment can last 25 to 30 years, reducing the turnaround to newer, cleaner equipment.  A typical bulldozer engine emits as much particulate matter pollution as about 500 cars.  Diesel exhaust from this type of equipment contributes to pollution, climate change and serious health problems. Upgrading diesel engines with new technologies is healthier for the city as well as the construction crews who are exposed to it on a daily basis.


The technologies will reduce harmful emissions of particulate matter (PM) – aka “soot” – from construction equipment by 85 percent or more.  According to a recent Environmental Protection Agency study, diesel construction equipment generates an estimated 25 percent of the county’s diesel particulate matter pollution.


Funds from the program can be used for engine upgrades and rebuilds, installation of diesel particulate filters and engine repowers.  Included on the long list of equipment that is eligible to be retrofitted are cranes, dump trucks, forklifts, graders and paving equipment.


The funds are awarded through an ongoing application process that helps small construction companies make needed investments to upgrade equipment and reduce air pollution.


To be eligible for funding, construction companies must meet the following requirements:


=The equipment being covered by the grant must be non-road.
=The company applying for funding must be a small construction company operating in Allegheny County, including the city of Pittsburgh.
=The company must have completed the federal Contractor Registration process.


The Heinz Endowments supports efforts to make southwestern Pennsylvania a premier place to live and work, a center for learning and educational excellence, and a region that embraces diversity and inclusion.


The Breathe Project is a coalition of 126 organizations and 1,300 individuals who have come together under a commitment to make significant improvement in air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Leaders of the coalition represent nearly every aspect of life in the region, including industries, environmental groups, local governments, foundations and civic groups.


The Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Management Association is a cooperative association of 10 air pollution control agencies in the Mid-Atlantic Region. MARAMA’s mission is to strengthen the skills and capabilities of member agencies and help them work together to prevent and reduce air pollution impacts.


For more information about the grants program, prospective applicants should contact Rick Gordon or call 443-901-1882. Information and applications also can be found here.

Air Quality Improvement Brings Economic Benefit

A unique partnership has piloted a new adaptive traffic signal control technology that promises to dramatically reduce harmful vehicle emissions and frustratingly long travel times through urban neighborhoods.  With funding support from three Pittsburgh foundations, Carnegie Mellon University has worked with the City of Pittsburgh and East Liberty Development Inc. to deploy the technology for a network of traffic lights serving the busy East Liberty area of the City.

“The reductions of 40 percent in vehicle wait time, nearly 26 percent in travel time and 21 percent in projected vehicle emissions realized in this pilot are remarkable,” said Dr. Jared L. Cohon, president of Carnegie Mellon.  “I’m proud of CMU’s team, which developed this first-in-the-world technology, and am equally proud of the partnership approach typical of Pittsburgh that made this pilot possible.”

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl cheered the pilot’s success as “a breakthrough in making our city’s traffic system work far more efficiently without having to resort to expensive widening roads, eliminating street parking,  or re-routing.  It makes the City more attractive to employers and residents alike.”

Dr. Stephen Smith, director of the Intelligent Coordination and Logistics Laboratory in CMU’s Robotics Institute, attacked the tough problem of perennially congested road networks in urban centers. Combining concepts from the fields of artificial intelligence and traffic theory, his team first developed technology to allow traffic signals to communicate with one another and collaboratively adapt to actual traffic conditions in real time. The second step was to establish proof of the concept using a simulation model of Pittsburgh city traffic. The latest step has been the pilot project that has successfully demonstrated that traffic signals have the ability to react to quickly changing conditions, reducing traffic congestion and the resulting extra vehicle emissions.  The next step will be to expand the pilot to demonstrate the technology on a bigger scale.

The groundbreaking technology was sponsored by the Traffic21 Initiative at CMU’s H. John Heinz III College.  Traffic21 was launched in 2009 with funding from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation.  Grants to Traffic21 from The Heinz Endowments’ Breathe Project and from the Richard King Mellon Foundation provided the funding for the pilot.

“This type of technological breakthrough is just what we hoped could happen when Traffic21 was created with a broad community partnership led by CMU,” said Pittsburgh business leader and philanthropist Henry Hillman.  “We are now beginning to see how Pittsburgh can be positioned to be a leading city on an international scale in demonstrating how low-cost, easy-to-implement technological solutions can reduce traffic congestion, vehicle fuel consumption and emissions while also improving safety and air quality.”

Heinz Endowments President Robert Vagt noted that each of the parties involved in the pilot is a member of the Breathe Project, the broad-based coalition of 112 organizations and 1,200 individuals dedicated to pulling Pittsburgh into the ranks of the cleanest-air regions in the country. “We saw the adaptive signalization project as a way to reduce the estimated 17 percent of our local air pollution problem [Allegheny County] that comes from vehicle emissions. What we’ve discovered from this great result is that something done with the intention of improving air quality can also deliver a significant economic benefit.”

James Rohr, Chairman and CEO of PNC Financial Services Group, a trustee of CMU, a member of the Endowments’ board and the leadership group of the Breathe Project, echoed these sentiments.  “This development has the potential to improve our city, improve our air and build upon our region’s reputation for innovation that solves problems, elevates quality of life and creates a better climate for business.”

Building on the support of the Traffic21 Initiative, CMU won a national competition in January 2012 to be named a University Transportation Center (UTC) by the U. S. Department of Transportation. Traffic21 and the new Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation UTC hope to continue the development and deployment of the smart signals technology breakthrough with its partners, expanding the pilot and assessing the possibilities for introducing the technology throughout the city.  Partners in this endeavor will include among others the City of Pittsburgh, Southwestern Pa. Commission, Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation, the Hillman and Richard King Mellon foundations, the Endowments, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and East Liberty Development.

Industry, Government, Environmental Nonprofits, Public Health, Academia Among Sectors Guiding Air-Improvement Quest


The coalition of 85 organizations and 1,000 individuals who have joined together to make significant improvements to air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania has formed a leadership group committed to encouraging individual and corporate actions, commissioning research and setting goals that will define future success.


The 23 members–ranging from Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, to David Porges, chairman, president and CEO of EQT Corp., to the Rev. Judith Moore of Clairton to Sean Jones, music professor and professional trumpeter–met for the first time Wednesday to begin charting the future course of the project.


The leadership group also heard the inspiring story of air quality-improvement success in Houston, Texas, from William White, the city’s mayor from 2003-2009.


“We are grateful beyond measure for the time and expertise that these very busy people will be bringing to this initiative by agreeing to step into leadership roles,” Robert Vagt, president of The Heinz Endowments, the convening foundation for the Breathe Project, said following the meeting. “What is most heartening is the determination and passion that was flowing through this group from the first moments of the session,” said Vagt, “and it gives us great confidence that the region will meet this challenge.”


The Endowments, which began the project two years ago as a philanthropic initiative, has now turned over broad guidance of the work to the leadership group.


Members heard about Houston’s successful clean-air campaign from White, who served as mayor for three terms. The city is widely recognized for having made significant strides in reducing air pollution, primarily through the actions of its business community.


“I look around this room–and I see you linking goals to actions of particular constituents,” White told the leaders. “You have business, political, faith-based, health and many more. If you agree on a goal, you can do whatever you want to do. You have everyone you need in place to make significant improvements.”


Members of the Breathe Project Leadership Group are:


=Dr. Joseph Ahearn, Chief Scientific Officer and Vice President, Allegheny Singer Research Institute, and Director, Lupus Center of Excellence, West Penn Allegheny Health System

=Aaron Bisno, Senior Rabbi, Rodef Shalom Congregation

=Dr. Donald Burke, Dean, Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh

=Jared Cohon, President, Carnegie Mellon University

=Maryann Donovan, Associate Director, Research Administration, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute

=Rachel Filippini, Executive Director, Group Against Smog & Pollution

=Rich Fitzgerald, County Executive, Allegheny County

=Dr. Deborah Ann Gentile, Director of Research, Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, Allegheny General Hospital

=Leo Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers

=Franco Harris, Super Bakery

=Thomas Hoffman, Western Pennsylvania Director, Clean Water Action

=Alex Johnson, President, Community College of Allegheny County

=Sean Jones, Trumpeter, Composer, Educator

=Linda Lane, Superintendent, Pittsburgh Public Schools

=Rev. Judith Moore, Pastor, First AME Church, Clairton

=Troy Miller, Graduate, Schenley High School

=Andrew Moore, Vice President of Engineering, Google Pittsburgh

=Grant Oliphant, President and CEO, The Pittsburgh Foundation

=David Porges, Chairman, President and CEO, EQT Corporation

=Luke Ravenstahl, Mayor, City of Pittsburgh

=Allen Robinson, Professor, Mechanical Engineering, Engineering & Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University

=James Rohr, Chairman & CEO, PNC Financial Services Group

=John Surma, Chairman & CEO, United States Steel Corporation

=Dennis Yablonsky, CEO, Allegheny Conference on Community Development

=Robert Vagt, President, The Heinz Endowments

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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  • Breathe Project

    Thanks everyone for listening in today on the p4 announcement. Follow us on Twitter, FB and Instagram for more. #p4pgh

    Mar 31st 11:53am • No Comments

    The Clean Air Council will be hosting a workshop on Shell's ethane cracker. The event will be held at the Community College of Beaver County tomorrow March 13th in the Health Science Center Auditorium #6010. 2 different sessions - 11am or 4 pm.

    The workshop will cover the Council's analysis and investigations into the public health impacts from the proposed ethane cracker and their recommendations to Shell so that public health is protected. Find out more:

    FREE Health Impact Assessment Workshop

    Attendance is FREE and ALL are welcome to attend!! Come Join the Clean Air Council and learn about it’s recently released Health Impact Assessment on Shell Chemical’s proposed Petrochemical Plant (Ethane Cracker). Friday, MARCH 13th 2015 • 11a - 12:30p & 4p - 5:30p Community College of Beaver Coun…

    Mar 12th 12:57pm • No Comments

    Read Illah Nourbakhsh's blog from the Huffington Post yesterday - "The Right to Breathe Easy." Illah is Director of the CREATE Lab and Head of the Robotics Master's Program at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute...and a real warrior for clean air!

    Breathe Project

    BREATHE is a unique coalition of business, government, organizations and citizens committed to improving air quality throughout the Pittsburgh region.

    Feb 27th 11:56am • No Comments

    It stinks!

    Reports of foul-smelling air are coming in from the East End of Pittsburgh today. Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time this has happened. The Breathe Project has received many complaints both last year and this year from people who lived in the city’s East End and nearby communities, and were both puzzled and disgusted with the stench.

    These foul-smelling days — and nights — affect our health and quality of life in many ways. Here are some concerns from local residents:

    • Chrisala Brown worries about her child’s health, explaining that “Situations like this…cause my child’s breathing problems…What’s going on Pennsylvania?”
    • Kristy Jo Volchko describes how the smell disrupts her sleep. “This is unacceptable,” she says.
    “All last year the sulfur smell was SO bad! It would creep in between midnight and 4 a.m. It would wake me from my sleep and I couldn't breathe and could taste in in my mouth. It smells like chemical death sewer around here. This is ridiculous.”
    • Ryan Poling complains that the stench inhibits his outdoor activity: “I wanted to go running today in the burgh, but bailed due to the nasty air.”
    • Natasha Girel seems resigned to the fact that she can’t even open her windows during pleasant weather. “Foul smell (occurs) early mornings in Squirrel Hill always,” she reports. “Stopped opening my windows in the summer long time ago because of it.”
    • Donna Holtkamp Marconyak’s echoes the feelings of other residents who are angry and have had enough, insisting, “This is disgusting and killing us!”

    Did YOU notice any foul smells today? Let us know what it smelled like, where you are located, and if it affected you or your activities today.

    Feb 24th 5:10pm • 14 Comments

    The GASP sponsored meeting to discuss the McConway and Torley facility has been RESCHEDULED to March 16th and will be held at Stephen Foster Community Center.

    Feb 23rd 5:39pm • No Comments

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    Phone: 412-338-2636
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