Young generations today will be the keepers of our environment tomorrow.
So parents, take the lead and begin showing your children that helping to care for our environment also means we are taking care of ourselves. The healthier our environment, the healthier we are.
Younger generations, it is never too early or too late to start making an impact! Better your own health and well-being by taking action today and bettering the environment for a healthier tomorrow.
Be sure to check out these family-friendly and fun activities
and tips in the different categories below:
Air Quality and Public Health
Air quality is a public health issue. The World Health Organization has indicated that air pollution is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. It affects brain development and has been linked to cancer, asthma and other respiratory diseases, cardiac impacts and stroke. Children are especially vulnerable to health effects of air pollution. Recent studies have indicated that the risk of psychiatric disorders in children increases where air has a slightly higher concentration of nitrogen dioxide. The World Health Organization calls air pollution one of the most serious health threats and links poor air quality to neurological disorders, mental health issues, and impaired cognitive function. We live in a non-attainment area, which means air pollution levels persistently exceed the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). This is a threat to public health that impacts all of the city’s residents.
Pittsburgh is the home to the largest coke works facility in the country, Clairton Coke Works. The company has a significant amount of violations—6,7000—from January 2, 2012 to May 31, 2015. The facility averages five violations per day. McConway and Torley, a steel foundry in Lawrenceville, is another top air polluter. The foundry has grandfather exemption to many pollution regulations, which has made limiting emissions from the facility difficult. Shenango, another coke producer, was a leading regional polluters. In 2016, Shenango made a business decision to close the plant, following on the heals of permit violations and community pressure. Although the production has halted, uncertainties about the future of the facility has created anxiety about other types of pollution.
Shell has continued to move forward with the construction of an ethane cracker in Beaver County. Shell chose this location due to the abundance of ethane from the Marcellus Shale and hopeful consumers of ethylene. An ethane cracker takes ethane and converts it to ethylene. Ethylene is a heavily produced petrochemical, used for the production of plastics and synthetic products.
The ethane cracker will be one of the Pittsburgh region’s largest source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Other emissions from the ethane cracker will include nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. VOCs are a hefty component of ground-level ozone, or smog. Exposure to these emissions result in respiratory problems, nausea, dizziness, and damage to the central nervous system. Monitoring of these emissions will be extremely crucial for public health and the well-being of nearby communities.
Pittsburgh does not meet the EPA’s ozone standard, so Shell has agreed to buy pollution offsets in the area as part of its permit. However, most of the credits Shell plans to buy are from coal-fired power plants that have already been closed down.
Black Carbon, emitted by diesel trucks, construction vehicles, and buses, results in adverse effects on human health and our environment. According to the EPA, exposure to Black Carbon is linked to respiratory issues, cardiovascular health, and premature death. The American Lung Association identifies Pittsburgh as the sixth most polluted city in the United States. Albert A. Presto, a professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies, has been researching black carbon
in the Pittsburgh area. His black carbon pollution map indicates the highest concentrations of black carbon particulate matter are along major highways and industrial sites. Particulate matter of 2.5 (PM2.5) is a public health concern, and Presto has found many of these areas to reach up to 5.63. River Valleys typically have high concentrations of pollution. Because encouraged recreational activities like biking, walking, and kayaking are encouraged along the river, it creates additional public health concerns.
Atmospheric inversions are layers of air that increase in temperature with altitude. Acting as a thick blanket, atmospheric inversions can trap air pollutants below them. This results in air pollution in a higher concentration, which leads to exposure and impacts on human health. Inversions contribute to poor air quality and more air quality action days. Cities surrounded by hills and mountains such as Pittsburgh are at greater risk because inversions trap the air in the city. Industrial source pollutants contribute to significant health impacts region wide. According to Albert A. Presto, a professor in Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies, pollution from Clairton Coke Works has been detected in Mt. Lebanon.
Methane gas is the second greatest emitted greenhouse gas by human activities in the United States. According to the EPA, the impact of Methane emissions is 25 times greater than CO2 over a 100-year period. Methane is often emitted into the atmosphere during the production of natural gas. Not only is methane gas impacting the health of your environment, but it is also impacting the health of our residents. Higher levels of ozone and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the gas are dangerous to human health. Exposure to these harmful elements can result in health issues that range from cardiovascular to respiratory.
Children and Air Quality:
Young children are at a greater risk for health problems related to air quality because they are still developing. Additionally, children spend more time outdoors than adults, increasing their exposure to poor air quality. Recent studies show that physician- diagnosed asthma in fifth grade students was almost 29 percent, and 12 percent of students are at risk for developing asthma. Nationally, more than 9 percent of children have asthma, and asthma is the number one cause of chronic absenteeism in schools.
To clean up our air quality and improve public health, immediate action is needed.
What we need to do:
* The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Allegheny County Health Department must issue financial penalties.
* The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Allegheny County Health Department, and other agencies must issue effective, timely permits.
* We must increase the number of on-site inspections and ensure that the public has real-time data on emissions and compliance.
* The industry must utilize the best available technology and install proper and sufficient air monitoring devices.
* We must increase and encourage public participation during the permit commenting period.
* Report any unusual sights and smells to the Department of Environmental Protection or the Allegheny County Health Department.