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Wednesday morning, members of several different air quality groups gathered in downtown Pittsburgh to stage a “play-in” with their children to draw attention to air quality issues in our city. The event coincided with a major coke production technology conference happening in downtown. Here’s what they had to say.




October 28, 2015

Trisha Sheehan, Moms Clean Air Force, (856) 796-0300


Local Health and Environmental Leaders Call for Action to Protect Allegheny County Families from Air Pollution


“Play-in” brings together families, health experts and advocates supporting clean air as coke manufacturing convention rolls into Pittsburgh


Pittsburgh, Pa. – Health and environmental advocates from throughout Allegheny County came together this morning in downtown Pittsburgh to draw attention to the negative health impact air pollution has on local families – and to urge policymakers and business leaders to take action. Pittsburgh ranks as one of the top 10 most polluted cities in the nation with regard to short- and long-term particle pollution, according to an annual survey from the American Lung Association. That kind of pollution can increase the risk of heart and lung disease, adverse birth outcomes, cancer and premature death.


Today’s event coincided with the Met Coke 2015 convention, a gathering of leaders in the coke, coal and steel industries. Attendees at the conference plan to discuss how technology and innovation can shape the coke manufacturing industry. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies the toxins from coke manufacturing emissions as among the most toxic, labeling it a carcinogen.


The largest coke plant in the country – U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works – is right here in Allegheny County.


“Two years ago, the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health reported that residents of Allegheny County are facing a cancer risk twice – and in some cases, even 20 – times higher than those living in surrounding areas due to air pollution,” said Dr. Marsha Haley, a radiation oncologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “That’s an astounding statistic, and it carries undeniable consequences for our public health. If we are serious about improving the health of our families, industry workers, and especially our children, we must address the pollution coming from coke facilities and other industrial plants in our area.”



“I love living in the Pittsburgh area – it’s my family’s home, and there’s nowhere else I’d want to raise my children. But parents like me shouldn’t have to worry every day about the quality of air our kids are breathing,” said Patrice Tomcik, an organizer with Moms Clean Air Force. “We know that many of the industrial facilities in this region pump toxins into the air that make people sick, and we know that many of these facilities do not regularly comply with the health guidelines meant to keep all of us safe. It’s time for that to change – our kids deserve better.”




Earlier this week, the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center issued a “Toxic Ten” report, which found that more than one-third of Allegheny County residents live within just three miles of 10 industrial facilities responsible for pumping at least 1.4 million pounds of toxic pollutants into the air in 2013. The emissions from these Toxic Ten facilities include chromium, manganese, and benzene – toxins that can cause an array of health problems including cancer.




“The Pittsburgh region is home to the highest density concentration of coke manufacturing operations anywhere in the United States,” said Dr. Albert Presto, a Carnegie Mellon University researcher with significant expertise in mapping the spread of toxic emissions in and around Pittsburgh. “We also know that the highest levels of air pollutants in Allegheny County are recorded at the monitors near the Shenango and Clairton coke works. It’s not just the hundreds of thousands of people who live in the shadow of these facilities who are exposed – toxins form plumes that can travel miles through the air, making this a problem about which every single person living in our region should be concerned.”




“It’s ironic that Pittsburgh is chosen to highlight the success of coke-making when the coke plants in our backyard are regularly violating the health standards put in place to protect our communities,” said Cassi Steenblok, Program Organizer for Clean Water Action. “We work with people throughout the Mon Valley who are forced to live with the health effects of being in a region consistently among the worst in the nation for air quality because of a local coke plant. These facilities need to recognize the effect they are having on our health and the environment and take an active role in cleaning up their acts.”


“Today’s event shows that families throughout the Pittsburgh region are rightfully taking air pollution seriously,” said Stephen Riccardi, with PennEnvironment. “Our Toxic Ten report, released earlier this week, shows that one in three individuals live within a three-mile radius of Allegheny County’s most toxic air polluters. This has implications for all of us and our families, and we all need to work together if we’re serious about making Pittsburgh the Most Livable City.”



“We continue to be concerned about the health implications that toxic emissions from local coke plants have on families all across Allegheny County,” said Rachel Filippini, Executive Director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP). “The best and brightest minds in the coke industry are in Pittsburgh right now talking about opportunities for and challenges to their industry. I hope they take this unique opportunity to talk about technologies, work practices, and innovations that could reduce their emissions and the serious impact they have on Pittsburghers’ health and quality of life.”


This morning, PennEnvironment released a report outlining the top 10 air toxics polluters in Allegheny County. These businesses are all over the county, affecting some 400,000 people who live within three miles of them.


Area air quality groups responded to the report with calls for action. Here’s what they said:



October 26, 2015

Mollie Simon, Clean Air Council



New Report Calls Out the Worst Industrial Sources of Air Pollution in Allegheny County


Hundreds of thousands of families across Allegheny County live in the shadows of ‘Toxic Ten’ facilities


Pittsburgh, Pa. – More than one-third of Allegheny County residents live within a three-mile radius of 10 industrial facilities responsible for pumping at least 1.4 million pounds of toxic pollutants into the air in 2013, according to a new report from the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. The report, “Toxic Ten: The Allegheny County Polluters that Are Fouling Our Air and Threatening Our Health,” exposes the chronic refusal of many of the region’s industrial facilities to comply with guidelines from the Allegheny County Health Department that are meant to keep everyone safe.


The PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center used industry-reported data from the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) on the amount and type of emissions from area facilities to determine which posed the greatest hazard to the health of nearby citizens. The emissions from these Toxic Ten industrial facilities include chromium, manganese, and benzene – toxins that can cause an array of health problems including cancer. It’s not just a hazard for the residents living in the shadows of these facilities. Toxic pollutants can travel a variety of distances, with studies showing some pollutants traveling more than 10 miles.


A number of the region’s leading medical and environmental experts are speaking out about the new report:


“We know that these toxins that are released into the air contribute to a variety of adverse health effects in both children and adults, including cancer and asthma as well as other problems,” said Dr. Deborah Gentile, an allergist-immunologist with Allegheny General Hospital. “Pittsburgh’s asthma rates exceed the national average, and one of the potential reasons why is because of the toxic emissions the facilities cited in this report release into the air we all breathe, each and every day. Other factors such as obesity, nutrition, infections, tobacco smoke exposure and poverty also play a role in asthma. We have not conquered our asthma problem in this region yet and one of the factors that we must address is how we can make the air we all breathe cleaner.”


Aviva Diamond of Moms Clean Air Force added, “Allegheny County has some of the worst air quality in the nation. The very air our children breathe is dangerous to their health and well-being. There is simply no more time to continue taking baby steps to address polluters – the Allegheny County Health Department must enforce existing regulations to keep our children safe and healthy.”


“This report provides clear evidence that we all need to come together – ACHD, community members, environmental health advocates and other NGO organizations and businesses – to take the needed steps and clean up our air throughout the region. With so many of our community members living right near a Toxic Ten facility, we know this is negatively impacting the health, welfare and quality of life of nearly everyone who calls Allegheny County home,” said Clean Air Council Executive Director and Chief Counsel Joe Minott.


The Toxic Ten report comes as some of the biggest names in the coke industry descend on Pittsburgh for the Met Coke 2015 convention this week. Experts and researchers will be gathering to discuss how technology and innovation can inform coke manufacturing moving forward. Coke is a highly-refined and processed form of coal, and it is one of the main materials needed to manufacture steel. The Environmental Protection Agency describes coke emissions as among the most toxic of all air pollutants, and classifies it as a carcinogen.


The country’s largest coke producer is right here in Allegheny County. About 37,000 people live within three miles of U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works, and the facility has been in near-constant violation of health guidelines since 2012.


“If Pittsburgh is going to truly become the most livable city we, as an entire region, need to think harder about not only what type of jobs we want to attract, but what it will take to attract those jobs. Quality of life for Allegheny County residents is reflected in the quality of the air that we breathe,” said George Jugovic, Chief Council with PennFuture. “Regulations to protect public health aren’t at odds with a vibrant workforce, they strengthen it.”


“We often hear from residents throughout the Mon Valley who are dealing with the health and environmental effects associated with poor air quality. Whether they are in Clairton, Liberty, or West Elizabeth one thing is the same – poor air quality is impacting the health and standard of living for all residents,” said Cassi Steenblok, Program Organizer for Clean Water Action. “This report comes as no surprise and just further proves the need for the county to get tough on air pollution.”


“This report highlights what the thousands of families living in the shadow of DTE Shenango Coke Works have known for far too long: these facilities simply don’t follow the regulations in place that are meant to keep our families safe and healthy,” said Thaddeus Popovich, with the citizens’ group Allegheny County Clean Air Now (ACCAN). “It’s time for facilities like Shenango to recognize that they operate in communities that thousands of people call home. That means they have to play by the rules.”


Jamin Bogi, Policy and Outreach Coordinator at Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) said, “This report adds further evidence to bolster our concern about McConway & Torley’s foundry in Lawrenceville, which has the most people living within three miles of its facility compared to others on the list. There has been a fence line monitor at M&T for years, but we know their metal emissions are still worrisome. It’s time for action to reduce these toxic emissions.”



This morning, PennEnvironment, a statewide group that works on several issues, include air quality, released their assessment of the worst air toxics offenders in Allegheny County. These businesses are everywhere in the county, from Bridgeville to Neville Island to Lawrenceville and the rankings are based on their own reporting to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.



PennEnvironment announced the release of their Toxic Ten air toxic polluters in Allegheny County on Oct. 26, 2015. They were joined by several other air quality advocates, including Clean Water Action, Allegheny County Clean Air Now and the Sierra Club. They were also joined by residents of the county who live near one of the 10 polluters.

One of their big findings: More than 1/3 of Allegheny County’s 1.2 million residents live within three miles of one of these polluters. Why does that matter? Because air moves, and even if a polluter isn’t in your backyard, what it releases into the air will eventually get there.

A woman who lives near Cheswick Power Plant shows photos of her experience living near a major point source of pollution in Allegheny County.

A woman who lives near Cheswick Power Plant shows photos of her experience living near a major point source of pollution in Allegheny County.


Use this interactive map to see how close you are to the Toxic Ten.




Researchers at Pitt took a look at births in southwest Pennsylvania and found a link between exposure to chromium and styrene and autism.


The study is here. We’re going to do our best to summarize it below.


Who did the study?

The study leader is Evelyn Talbot. She’s an epidemiologist in the public health school at Pitt. Epidemiologists try to establish cause and effect for disease, but often, they are also looking for correlations – things that have a relationship to each other, but aren’t necessarily cause and effect. A correlation is what they say they have found in this paper.

Children playing in the shadow of the coal-fired power plant in Cheswick.

Children playing in the shadow of the coal-fired power plant in Cheswick.

Who was in the study?

Talbot’s team took a look at the medical history and talked to the moms of 217 children born between 2005 and 2009 who have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. These kids live in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington or Westmoreland Counties. The researchers also looked at a similar number of children who weren’t on the autism spectrum and interviewed their moms. They also compared their findings to thousands of births in the area, but there were no interviews.


Um, 217 kids doesn’t seem like a lot. Is it?

Is 217 enough to do a study? The authors said that based on predictions of the number of children born in these counties in those years, they wanted to enroll about half the number predicted to have ASD (autism spectrum disorder). That would be 250 children. Pretty close!


How do you know the kids were exposed to anything?

The team used computer models based on pollution data collected by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to predict the actual exposure of each kid in the study based on addresses during the study period. They looked at 30 different air toxics that are found in southwestern PA that have been known to effect development, our nervous systems or our hormone systems.


And they found what?

Of the 30 different air toxics they looked at (things like benzene, arsenic and lead), they found a pretty strong correlation between developing autism and exposure to styrene, an oily chemical that ends up in plastics and chromium, a metal that is sometimes used in steel production.


Now what?

The study is just the beginning, but since we already know that exposure to pollution can impact children and adults, the authors think that following up with monitoring the levels of styrene and chromium in the air can give us more data to better understand individual outcomes. One surprising thing is that we have no autism registry in PA. Given the number of people studying the disorders, and the list of potential causes, the researchers are calling on the state, if not the nation, to start a registry.




News about the proposed Shell ethane cracker in Beaver County: the Clean Air Council and the Environmental Integrity Project are appealing the permit given by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Why? Because, they say, the permit isn’t protective enough, and is violation of the federal Clean Air Act.


The ethane cracker would be in Monaca, which already is dealing with poor air quality that doesn’t meet federal standards. The new cracker would be a major point source for pollution.


In case you were curious, here’s ethane cracker 101: The facility will take a chemical called ethane, which is a component of one type of natural gas that comes from fracking, and convert it into polyethylene through a couple of chemical reactions that take the gas and eventually convert it into long chains of a similar repeating structure. Polyethylene is used in a lot of industrial processes, including making plastic that goes into everything from grocery bags to test tubes.


For ethane cracker 102, click here.




Here’s the news release:



August 4, 2015


Clean Air Council and Environmental Integrity Project Challenge PA Department of Environmental Protection’s Approval of Shell Ethane Cracker Permit


The Council and Environmental Integrity Project’s appeal of the permit follows their filing of comments recommending stronger pollution controls and air pollution monitoring. The DEP’s approval of Shell’s permit does not conform with the Clean Air Act.


Philadelphia, PA – Yesterday the Clean Air Council and the Environmental Integrity Project appealed a state permit for a proposed petrochemical plant northwest of Pittsburgh that would allow the construction of a major source of air pollution in an area that already exceeds federal air quality standards set to protect human health.


The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in June approved of a plan by Shell Chemical Appalachia LLC for a new petrochemical facility called an “ethane cracker” in Monaca, Beaver County, PA, that would process ethane from Marcellus Shale natural gas to produce polyethylene for plastic products.


The environmental groups are appealing the permit to the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board because DEP did not comply with the minimum requirements of the federal Clean Air Act and Pennsylvania’s State Implementation Plan.


“Shell’s proposed air pollution controls for the facility are inadequate and do not provide the residents of Beaver County with the most protective pollution technology controls, which have been implemented at similar Shell facilities and other petrochemical plants in other parts of the country,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Esq. Chief Counsel, Executive Director of the Clean Air Council.


”Ozone levels in Beaver County already exceed levels that are safe for human health, causing excess risk of asthma and other serious respiratory diseases.   Shell must monitor and control the facility’s emissions of volatile organic compounds, an ozone precursor, as much as possible to comply with the Clean Air Act and to protect the health of the surrounding communities,” said Sparsh Khandeshi, an attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project.


The facility will be a major source of air pollution in Beaver County, an area that is currently designated as nonattainment for ozone and PM2.5 National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The groups argue that DEP has not required Shell to install equipment, such as fence-line monitoring, that would detect leaks and help achieve and ensure the lowest achievable emission rate.


The lawsuit also challenges Shell’s representation of the amount of volatile organic compounds that will be released from flaring. Without these needed controls, the groups believe that residents and communities in the Beaver County area would be harmed by the operation of the Shell Petrochemical Facility.


Clean Air Council is a member-supported, non-profit environmental organization dedicated to protecting everyone’s right to breathe clean air. The Council works through public education, community advocacy, and government oversight to ensure enforcement of environmental laws.


The Environmental Integrity Project is nonpartisan, nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., dedicated to advocating for more effective enforcement of environmental laws. EIP has three goals: (1) to provide objective analyses of how the failure to enforce or implement environmental laws increases pollution and affects public health; (2) to hold federal and state agencies, as well as individual corporations, accountable for failing to enforce or comply with environmental laws; and (3) to help local communities obtain the protection of environmental laws.


Hey folks – big news today out of PennEnvironment – they’ve filed their intent to sue ArcelorMittal, the global steel company, for what they describe as hundreds of violations of the Clean Air Act out of their plant in Monessen, south of Pittsburgh.


PennEnvironment held a press conference today to discuss the pending suit, with people who live in the neighborhood talking about how hard it is to live by the plant. The full text of their press release is below.



ArcelorMittal’s Pittsburgh-area Plant Commits Hundreds of Clean Air Act Violations, Raining Soot and Foul Odors on Local Residents


[PITTSBURGH, PA] – At a news conference held in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Pittsburgh, representatives of the citizen-based non-profit group PennEnvironment announced they’re taking the required steps to trigger a lawsuit against the world’s largest steel company, ArcelorMittal, to address hundreds of ongoing violations of the federal Clean Air Act.


The suit would address a wide variety of alleged problems at ArcelorMittal USA, Inc.’s Monessen Coke Plant, located twenty-five miles south of Pittsburgh on the banks of the Monongahela River. Local residents say the plant is fouling the air over a wide swath of southwestern Pennsylvania.


The required pre-suit notice letter, sent on behalf of PennEnvironment and its members to ArcelorMittal, as well as to state and federal regulators, alleges that residents of numerous nearby towns surrounding the plant have been showered with soot, acidic gases, and noxious odors since the idled, decades-old facility re-started in April 2014. These include the municipalities of Monessen, Donora, Monongahela, and Carroll Township, located in both Westmoreland and Washington counties.


A view of the ArcelorMittal plant in Monessen. Photo by Logan Tilley


“I’ve met with residents who live in towns all around this plant, and their stories about air pollution from this facility are gut-wrenching,” said David Masur, Executive Director of PennEnvironment. “Ever since the Monessen Coke Plant re-opened last year, local residents have had their quality of life diminished, have endured ongoing odors and soot, and have had to fear for their health and the health of their families. This is appalling and unacceptable.”


“The smell that emanates from the Monessen plant is consistently foul and sometimes so suffocating that I feel like a prisoner in my own home. I only get relief from these odors and pollution when I leave the area,” said Viktoryia Maroz, a resident of Donora, PA.


Photos of the facility can be viewed at hC4l. If using photos to accompany a news story, please credit as, “Logan Tilley.”


The Clean Air Act’s “citizen suit” provision allows private individuals and organizations to sue violators in federal court after first providing 60 days’ notice of their intent to file suit and of the violations to be addressed in the suit.


The Monessen plant’s 56 coke battery ovens heat coal at high temperatures to produce nearly 1,000 tons per day of “coke,” a form of carbon that is added to molten iron to produce steel. Coke from the Monessen plant is shipped to ArcelorMittal’s various North American steel mills.


The production of coke creates massive amounts of toxic, chemical-laden gases and fine particulate pollutants that, if not properly contained and treated, can cause serious environmental and public health problems when released to the surrounding environment.


The notice letter alleges a wide range of violations at ArcelorMittal’s Monessen plant, including:


• Operating the plant for days and weeks at a time while a key air pollution control device was out of service;
• Approximately 200 violations of the facility’s pollution limits for hydrogen sulfide (a toxic gas with a foul odor), sulfur dioxide (a respiratory irritant and contributor to acid rain), and particulate matter (which can lodge in the lungs and exacerbate respiratory problems);
• Failure to install a mandatory monitoring device needed to track the amount of hydrogen sulfide coming from the facility’s smokestacks.


At times, violations have been so egregious that ArcelorMittal’s emission levels have been up to eight times higher than the legally allowable limits.


ArcelorMittal USA, Inc., is headquartered in Chicago. Its parent company is headquartered in Luxembourg and has annual revenues of over $80 billion.


PennEnvironment’s lawsuit will be filed by the non-profit attorneys at the National Environmental Law Center (NELC), in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, located in Pittsburgh. The lawsuit will seek a court order requiring the Monessen Coke Plant to comply with its Clean Air Act permit, and civil penalties against ArcelorMittal to punish it for past violations and to deter future violations.


A separate class-action lawsuit (unrelated to the suit announced today by PennEnvironment) has been filed against ArcelorMittal’s Monessen Coke Plant, seeking monetary damages for residents suffering from noxious odors and soot.


“It’s outrageous that the world’s largest steel company, which brings in $80 billion annually, can’t find a way to comply with our cornerstone environmental laws and ensure the health and safety of nearby residents,” stated Masur. “That’s anything but being a good corporate neighbor.”




PennEnvironment is a citizen-funded, statewide environmental advocacy organization. For more information about this or other PennEnvironment campaigns, please visit our website at


The National Environmental Law Center (NELC) is a non-profit environmental litigation group. NELC will be joined in the lawsuit by attorney David Nicholas of Newton, Massachusetts, and Pittsburgh attorney Thomas Farrell of Farrell & Reisinger, LLC.

If you have an old wood stove or a wood-fired boiler, here’s your chance to make a little cash and potentially upgrade to something a little more air-friendly.


On Saturday, June 13, from 9 a.m. to noon in the parking lot of the Skating Rink in South Park, the Allegheny County Health Department is hosting its fourth annual buyback program for wood stoves and wood-fired boilers that don’t meet clean air goals.


Wood stoves that aren’t certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (basically anything built before 1992), will get you a $200 gift card. Wood-fired boilers that don’t meet Phase II goals for the EPA Hydronic Heater Voluntary Partnership Program will get you $500 cash. You need to register by Wednesday to drop off your old stove or boiler – if you just show up, the county may not be able to accept the drop off.


Why trade-in? Older models of both wood stoves and wood-fired boilers produce nearly twice as much small particle pollution (PM2.5) – that fine material that you can’t see, but that can be hazardous for people with asthma, breathing problems, heart problems and the like, as newer, certified models. Plus, when you burn wood, a laundry list of noxious gases and chemicals with links to cancer are released – benzene, formaldehyde, sulfoxides, nitrogen oxides, etc.


Check out this ad on Craigslist from someone trying to sell a wood stove, saying that asthma is one of the reasons why it’s on sale.*


Since the program started in 2013, ACHD has collected nearly 150 stoves and one boiler. They go to a company that recycles them.


EPA says that uncertified wood-fired boilers release nearly one ton of PM2.5 per year; certified boilers release about one-third that. A lot of clean air groups think the most air-friendly way to go is gas or electric, wanting you to breathe easier while staying warm next winter.


*It’s not clear from the ad or the model number if the stove is EPA compliant or not.

A few months after showing a link between autism and exposure to air toxics like styrene and chromium, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health are finding that soot, smoke and the small particles found in air pollution also are tied to this mysterious disorder.




The team, led by Pitt epidemiologist Evelyn Talbott, studied more than 200 children in Western Pennsylvania on the autism spectrum, and compared them to a similar number of children not on the spectrum. The researchers interviewed their moms extensively about their lives and where they lived from before they got pregnant to the time their kids turned two.


They compared the geographical data to pollution levels using a special modeling system. Talbott and her team found that both before the kids were born and after, exposure to PM2.5, particles that are less than 2.5 microns in size, correlated to a diagnosis on the spectrum. One in 68 kids is on the spectrum.


A pair of baby's feet


The study was published in early May in a journal called Environmental Research, and while it isn’t conclusive, it does make us wonder – shouldn’t we give kids the cleanest air possible?





Our first set of pollution maps from Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies told a startling truth – along the rivers and major roadways of Allegheny County, black carbon was lurking in dangerous concentrations.


But, it was an overview, a broad look at a large area. You asked, what’s it like in my neighborhood? Maybe even my street?



The newest set of pollution maps allow you to input your address. What’s the NOx in your neighborhood like? Your street? How is Black Carbon affecting your commute through Allegheny County? Click on the link to the left to find out.

CAPS listened. They reconfigured. And starting today, you can type in your address and see what black carbon and NO2 are like on your block.


The data have been gathered and averaged yearly for three years, 2011-2014. And yes, there have been minor improvements, but the creators of the map want to be clear: This is pretty good view of what our air is still like, today. And as Grant Oliphant, President of The Heinz Endowments says, this is not good enough.


Pittsburgh is on so many “best of” lists, but our air quality typically is among the worst in the nation. We believe we can improve. We believe we can breathe better. Learn more about your air at




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.

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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

    When asked why public can't know safety plans, tanker contents, what's nearby #oiltrain15 was told, "terrorism."

    Residents want details on crude oil trains and emergency plans

    Three and half hours into a daylong event focused on crude oil trains in communities, tensions boiled over. “What we are not going to be able to confirm is exactly what lines they are on or what are the hazards and the most desirable targets,” said Ray DeMichiei, a top emergency response official in Pittsburgh during a panel discussion in Oakland’s Wyndham University Center at the Friday event.

    Today at 9:56am • No Comments

    Blerf. Not a great forecast for today. Here's to a green Gobble-day for Pittsburgh and beyond! #whatibreathe

    Timeline Photos

    Nov 25th 8:27am • No Comments

    Pretty cool: The first head of @EPA, and the dude who helped get #cleanairact gets a Presidential #medaloffreedom.

    NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR

    NPR delivers breaking national and world news. Also top stories from business, politics, health, science, technology, music, arts and culture. Subscribe to podcasts and RSS feeds.

    Nov 25th 7:49am • No Comments

    The PG weighs in on the Clean Power Plan and efforts to block it:

    Battle lines: The Clean Power Plan is worth fighting for

    The Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan is a sensible, doable, legally sound proposal to reduce dangerous carbon emissions from power plants and to promote renewable energy and greater energy efficiency. Unfortunately, the Republican-majority U.S. Senate — including Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey — voted last week to block the plan; similar legislation is before the GOP-controlled House. There aren’t enough votes in Congress to override President Barack Obama’s inevitable veto, but that won’t stop lawmakers from trying to discredit the proposal before the global climate conference in Paris at the end of this month. The Clean Power Plan, overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sets the first-ever national limits on emissions from power plants of carbon dioxide, the primary

    Nov 23rd 4:08pm • No Comments

    Happy #turkeyweek! Thanks to all our new followers and everyone who believes #cleanair=a better Pittsburgh for all!

    Timeline Photos

    Nov 23rd 9:34am • No Comments

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  • The Heinz Endowments
    Megha Satyanarayana, Communications Officer
    Phone: 412-338-2616
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