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2023 World Air Quality Report

While the number of countries and regions with air quality monitoring has steadily increased over the past six years, there remain significant gaps in government-operated regulatory instrumentation in many parts of the world. Low-cost air quality monitors, sponsored and hosted by citizen scientists, researchers, community advocates, and local organisations, have proven to be valuable tools to reduce gaps in air monitoring networks across the world.

“A clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a universal human right. In many parts of the world the lack of air quality data delays decisive action and perpetuates unnecessary human suffering. Air quality data saves lives. Where air quality is reported, action is taken, and air quality improves,” states Frank Hammes, Global CEO, IQAir.

These independent air quality monitoring stations reveal disproportional exposure to harmful air pollution among vulnerable and underrepresented groups. Glaring gaps in air quality monitoring data, where pollution is likely poor, further underline the need to expand air quality monitoring coverage worldwide.

“IQAir’s annual report illustrates the international nature and inequitable consequences of the enduring air pollution crisis. Local, national, and international effort is urgently needed to monitor air quality in under-resourced places, manage the causes of transboundary haze, and cut our reliance on combustion as an energy source,” states Aidan Farrow, Sr. Air Quality Scientist, Greenpeace International. “In 2023, air pollution remained a global health catastrophe. IQAir’s global data set provides an important reminder of the resulting injustices and the need to implement the many solutions that exist to this problem.”

2022 Pennsylvania State Water Plan

This 2022 State Water Plan Update (updated State Water Plan or 2022 Update) was prepared under the
Water Resources Planning Act, which was adopted by the Act of December 16, 2002, P.L. 1776, No 220
(Act 220 of 2002).1 Act 220 of 2002 requires the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in
consultation and with the guidance of the Statewide Water Resources Committee (Statewide Committee) and Regional Water Resource Committees (Regional Committees), to conduct a periodic review of the State Water Plan. The goal for the updated State Water Plan was to evaluate the outcomes from the work performed for the 2009 State Water Plan Update (2009 Update) through the interim period to the beginning of the updated State Water Plan. This evaluation was used to form a policy-level report providing a fresh assessment of issues and revised recommendations, and an appraisal of new climate action strategies.

Tasks included:

  • Evaluations of previous regional and statewide water resources priorities
  • Appraisals of the previous plan’s goals
  • Development of improved online public access to data
  • An expansion of educational and outreach opportunities
  • Evaluations of climate action strategies related to water resources
  • Continuation of work with previously started Critical Area Resource Plans
43rd Statewide Grand Jury Finds Pennsylvania Failed to Protect Citizens During Fracking Boom

“This report is about preventing the failures of our past from continuing into our future,” said Attorney General Shapiro in a press conference Thursday. “It’s about the big fights we must take on to protect Pennsylvanians — to ensure that their voices are not drowned out by those with bigger wallets and better connections. There remains a profound gap between our Constitutional mandate for clean air and pure water, and the realities facing Pennsylvanians who live in the shadow of fracking giants and their investors.”

This report follows the findings of the Grand Jury’s previous criminal presentments against two fracking companies — Range Resources and Cabot Oil & Gas — for their repeated and systematic violation of Pennsylvania environmental law. Range has since pleaded no contest to environmental crimes committed in Washington County, Pennsylvania. These cases were referred to the Office of Attorney General by local District Attorneys.

The report details the initial failure of the Department of Environmental Protection to adequately respond to the unconventional oil and gas industry and also points out that missteps continue to this day. These failures harmed Pennsylvanians living in close proximity to this industry. The grand jurors found that, while the Wolf administration has forced through some improvements at the agency, there continues to be room for meaningful change to occur.

Pennsylvania Climate Change Impacts Assessment Update (2020)

The Pennsylvania Climate Change Act (PCCA), Act 70 of 2008, directed Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to conduct a study of the potential impacts of global climate change on Pennsylvania over the next century and to prepare periodic updates. The first study was issued by DEP in 2009. It was prepared by a team of researchers at the Pennsylvania State University and presented to DEP in two reports: Pennsylvania Climate Impacts Assessment (Shortle et al., 2009), and Economic Impacts of Projected Climate Change in Pennsylvania (Abler et al. 2009). Updates were issued 2013 and 2015. This report is the third update. Like the first report and subsequent updates, this report has been prepared by a team of topic experts from Penn State University.

Prior reports have summarized research on Pennsylvania’s climate future with global climate change. These reports have also assessed the impacts of climate change on climate-sensitive sectors in Pennsylvania, including agriculture, energy, forests, human health, outdoor recreation, water and aquatic resources. This has been a standard format for national and regional assessments. However, current expectations about Pennsylvania’s projected future climate remain as presented in the 2015 report. Similarly, general expectations about climate change impacts on Pennsylvania’s climate sensitive sectors remain largely as presented in the 2015 report.

This report focuses on three topic areas: (1) Climate change impacts on Pennsylvania livestock production and livestock production impacts on water quality; (2) Implications of climate change for planning, policies, and practices to achieve Pennsylvania’s obligations under the 2011 Chesapeake Bay TMDL; and (3) Resilience of Pennsylvania’s critical infrastructure to extreme weather and climate. These topics are addressed in order in Chapters 2,3, and 4 of this report.

Potential Impacts of Climate Change on Railroads

Throughout their existence, railroad operators have faced environmental conditions that expose tracks, facilities, trains, and crews to an array of severe weather situations. Operating in sometimes remote and wilderness locations, railroad companies must deal with thunderstorms, tornadoes, flash floods and river floods, rock and mud slides, avalanches, desert heat, extreme cold, high crosswinds, snow and ice storms, limited visibility, lightning, and tropical cyclones.

The certainty and severity of some of these events often requires specific actions such as train rerouting or halts with little advance warning. Still other events are amenable to planning and strategies with longer lead times, but sometimes with more uncertainty. Terrorist threats have now placed urgent emphasis on the security of hazardous materials shipped by rail, with the intentional release and dispersion of such materials then potentially affected by existing meteorological conditions, and perhaps even climate anomalies.

Implications of Climate Change

Climate models suggest a future warming of 0.2 – 0.3oC per decade.1 Sea levels are expected to rise at a rate of 4 to 10 cm per decade. Ancillary effects include changes in regional distributions of rainfall and soil moisture, and possibly more frequent and more intense storm systems. In recent years, the complexities of climate change and predictions of climate model outputs have introduced an additional measure of uncertainty for railroad operators. Weather events, climate oscillations, and climate trends hence affect railroad safety, including fatalities, injuries, and property damage. Through their interactions with maintenance, planning, operating efficiency, scheduling, and demand for freight and passenger services, weather and climate may also affect a firm’s balance sheet, and cash flow, capital investment decisions, and even competitive stance within the industry.

Unconventional Oil and Gas Development Exposure and Risk of Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia: A Case–Control Study in Pennsylvania

Background:

Unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD) releases chemicals that have been linked to cancer and childhood leukemia. Studies of UOGD exposure and childhood leukemia are extremely limited.

Objective:

The objective of this study was to evaluate potential associations between residential proximity to UOGD and risk of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common form of childhood leukemia, in a large regional sample using UOGD-specific metrics, including a novel metric to represent the water pathway.

Methods:

We conducted a registry-based case–control study of 405 children ages 2–7 y diagnosed with ALL in Pennsylvania between 2009–2017, and 2,080 controls matched on birth year. We used logistic regression to estimate odds ratios (ORs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) for the association between residential proximity to UOGD (including a new water pathway-specific proximity metric) and ALL in two exposure windows: a primary window (3 months preconception to 1 y prior to diagnosis/reference date) and a perinatal window (preconception to birth).

Results:

Children with at least one UOG well within 2km of their birth residence during the primary window had 1.98 times the odds of developing ALL in comparison with those with no UOG wells [95% confidence interval (CI): 1.06, 3.69]. Children with at least one vs. no UOG wells within 2km during the perinatal window had 2.80 times the odds of developing ALL (95% CI: 1.11, 7.05). These relationships were slightly attenuated after adjusting for maternal race and socio-economic status [odds ratio (OR) =1.74 (95% CI: 0.93, 3.27) and OR=2.35 (95% CI: 0.93, 5.95)], respectively). The ORs produced by models using the water pathway-specific metric were similar in magnitude to the aggregate metric.

Discussion:

Our study including a novel UOGD metric found UOGD to be a risk factor for childhood ALL. This work adds to mounting evidence of UOGD’s impacts on children’s health, providing additional support for limiting UOGD near residences.
City of Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan

Climate change is a major threat to communities around the world. Potential consequences of climate change include an increase in extreme weather events, higher rates of infectious diseases and heat-related illnesses, the possible shortage of food and basic goods as well as an increase in public expenditures to mitigate these effects. The City of Pittsburgh has long recognized that wide-ranging action must be taken in order to mitigate the effects of climate change on both local and global communities.

As a result, on February 9, 2007, the City of Pittsburgh signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, pledging to implement local climate change mitigation solutions that would save taxpayer dollars and reduce long-term energy use.

Pittsburgh’s Green Government Task Force (GGTF) was charged with developing the first ever Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan, adopted by the City as a guiding document in July 2008. This document provided an outline of specific strategies for achieving reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2012, the Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan 2.0 was created to review and revise the efforts of government, private businesses, institutions of higher education, and Pittsburgh residents toward the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. New measures were proposed that could be implemented in order meet a greenhouse gas reduction target of 20% below 2003 levels by the year 2023.

By 2017, it was clear that expedited measures must be taken to help mitigate the local effects of global climate change. Building on the successes of the previous versions, Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan, Version 3.0 has been created to track progress made through the first two plans and to propose new measures to counteract the adverse effects of climate change. This document aligns with Mayor William Peduto’s climate goals1 signed in 2015 at the Paris Accords, where he was one of 12 mayors representing the United States. In June 2017, Mayor Peduto also joined 175 other U.S. mayors in signing an Executive Order1 to pledge efforts to meet the “1.5 degrees Celsius target” as set forth by the Paris Agreement.

The Pittsburgh Climate Action Plan 3.0 takes a renewed approach to climate change mitigation by presenting action plans and strategies regarding six key areas: Energy Generation & Distribution, Buildings & End Use Efficiency, Transportation & Land Use, Waste & Resource Recovery, Food & Agriculture, and Urban Ecosystems.

Pittsburgh Air Pollution Changes During the COVID-19 Lockdown

The rapid spread of COVID-19 resulted in various public lockdowns across the globe. Previous studies showed that resultant travel restrictions improved air quality. The novel results presented here focus on source-specific changes and compare air quality for multiple years controlled for precipitation. This study sought to analyze air pollution changes in Pittsburgh, a city where an industrial past and present has led to elevated levels of particulate matter with representative diameter of ≤ 2.5μm (PM2.5). Data from the Allegheny County Health Department, from monitors located near a variety of site types, were analyzed with generalized linear models that used a gamma distribution with a log link to determine the magnitude and significance of changes in air pollution during the COVID-19 lockdown. The hypothesis was that nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is primarily linked to vehicular traffic, would decrease significantly while potential decreases in particulate matter (PM2.5 and PM10) would be less apparent. Results of the regression models showed that NO2 was significantly reduced during lockdown at both monitoring sites and that PM10 was also significantly reduced at the majority of monitoring sites. However, decreases in PM2.5 pollution were only observed at half of the monitoring locations, and the location which observed the greatest decreases is located adjacent to an industrial source. Decreases in PM2.5 at this monitoring site were likely a result of reduced industrial processes both dependent and independent of the COVID-19 lockdown. This study suggests that industrial sources are a larger contributor of particulate matter than vehicular transportation in the city of Pittsburgh and that future air pollution reduction efforts should focus attention on emission reduction at these industrial facilities.

State of Environmental Health in Pennsylvania Schools

Every child deserves to learn in a healthy school. The global COVID-19 pandemic has shown us how vital schools are to families and communities across the country. The Commonwealth’s K–-12 education system serves more than 1.7 million students across 500 public school districts.

The importance of healthy schools cannot be overstated. Environmental hazards in the built environment can affect the healthy development of a child, which in turn can impact their ability to learn and perform well in school. Healthy schools are not just about our buildings, but rather about our commitment to ensuring that every child has the opportunity to succeed. That opportunity includes learning in an environment that is safe, clean, healthy, dry, and pest-free; in an environment that encourages health promoting behaviors, where green space is accessible, and healthy nutritious food is available to all; and where mental, behavioral, and socioemotional services, are accessible to help serve the growing needs of families across the commonwealth. Schools are a reflection of our community values. When we invest in schools we invest in a healthy, safer, cleaner future where all can have the opportunity to thrive and succeed. The research is clear that when we act, we see a difference – improved absenteeism, improved health outcomes, healthy cognitive development, and the ability to achieve academic potential.

Schools have enormous funding priorities, one of which is sustained funding for their building infrastructures. A pattern identified throughout this report is that schools who serve a larger percentage of students from lower-income or economically disadvantaged families, and a larger percentage of special education students, are opting out of taking action on preventing exposure to environmental hazards in their schools. These schools do not necessarily spend less per student than their counterparts who do test; they do however have competing priorities when it comes to how to spend the limited funding they receive from local tax bases and state and federal governments. As of 2016, no state funding has been available for Pennsylvania public schools for infrastructure-related expenses, including new construction and continued maintenance of school buildings.

Get the Lead Out, Wilkinsburg: A study focused on identifying lead hazards

Lead concentrations fall either above or below the detection limit of the equipment and methods used. “Negative” and “positive” samples fall below and above the detection limits, respectively. Detection levels vary by equipment and methods used to measure lead concentrations. 1,500 mg/kg 40 to 14,000 mg/kg previous studies have found no safe levels of lead. For this reason, many of the federal action levels are not health based nor health protective. Thankfully, the EPA lowered its lead dust and paint standards for both risk assessments and clearance testing in 2019 and 2020, respectively. This followed recent findings of increased blood lead levels and cases of childhood lead poisoning between floor dust lead of 10 μg/ft2 (current, new standard) and 40 μg/ft2 (previous standard).

A negative reading does not guarantee that no lead is present. The detection limits of certified testing equipment and methods must fall below hazard or action levels. While negative samples have concentrations below action levels determined by federal agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Positive samples may exceed regulated thresholds. While paint is a primary lead source, lead that is encapsulated is not necessarily a hazard. Thus, paint samples that exceed the federal definition of lead paint, or 1 mg/cm2, are often considered a precursor to potential exposure. Lead observed in dust and soil indicates previous or existing lead paint has been compromised, increasing exposure risks. Federal agencies set health-based hazard or action levels for lead in dust and soil, which vary by source and sample location. In addition to paint, lead may leach into drinking water from lead plumbing and fixtures. Lead in drinking water is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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