The programs here don’t easily fit into any of the other categories of work, but that doesn’t diminish their importance. The Council’s public health work has seen major victories recently, from our environmental justice work to shut down Peninsula Compost in Wilmington to our assistance in implementing smoke-free policies at Public Housing Authorities across Pennsylvania. Visit the pages below and learn more about this important work!
Environmental justice is a key component of the Council’s work. For too long environmentalists have focused on the creation of benefits and reduction of harms through environmental policy, often without looking at how these benefits and harms are distributed. The harms have been allowed to accumulate in specific communities (particularly low-income and minority) which also receive few, if any, of the benefits.
That’s why the Council’s environmental justice program is a board-approved priority. For the last five years the Council has been particularly active on environmental justice issues in Wilmington and the River Ward port neighborhoods in Philadelphia. The Council is also active in southwest Philadelphia near the Philadelphia refinery where flooding and transportation issues are a major concern to the community. The Council has worked with these communities in a wide variety of ways, from organizing the public against neighborhood pollution sources to arranging citizen air monitoring programs. The Council is also working in a number of low-income neighborhoods to ensure that chronic environmental health threats are addressed.
Clean Air Council has long been a leader in educating the public about and advocating for smoke-free initiatives, and has been integral in pushing for smoke-free legislation in Pennsylvania. For nearly ten years the Council has served as a provider of numerous innovative tobacco advocacy, educational, and control services for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, covering 34 of the 67 counties in Pennsylvania.
Our current campaigns focus on reducing exposure to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke comes from smoke breathed out by the person who smokes, and smoke from the end of a burning cigarette. The harmful effects of tobacco smoke are well known, and include cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma. These harms are not limited to firsthand smoke, either, as secondhand smoke still contains over 4,000 chemicals, 200 of which are poisons and at least 69 cause cancer and other diseases. The EPA estimates that secondhand smoke causes approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths and 37,000 heart disease deaths in nonsmokers each year.
The Clean Air Council is developing low-cost, mobile air quality monitors to be used by residents nearby polluting facilities. Not only will these monitors hold polluters accountable, they’ll do so by empowering the residents affected by pollution to advocate for the changes that best meet their needs.
This project is currently in the testing phase. Our Engineering & Technical Coordinator Karl is working to calibrate the air monitors and make sure they give accurate readings. Karl and our Community Health Director John are also running a pilot program in Chinatown right now to test for particulate matter with another set of monitors (and you can see the results yourself if you visit www.aircasting.org/map).
While ports are critical hubs of economic activity, they’re also major sources of diesel pollution. The constant movement of goods means there is a steady stream of truck, boat, and train traffic, in addition to diesel-powered cranes and other machinery used to load and unload cargo. In Philadelphia and Wilmington low-income residential neighbors are forced to bear the brunt of the pollution.
Clean Air Council’s indoor air pollution program works by educating residents to reduce exposure to air pollution while indoors. Most Americans spend considerably more time indoors than outdoors, yet there are few laws that protect the public from exposure to indoor pollution. Indoor pollution can come from natural sources (radon); combustion (carbon monoxide); consumer goods (lead); or personal behavior (cigarette smoke).
The CDC defines a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) as “a process that helps evaluate the potential health effects of a plan, project or policy before it is built or implemented.” Simply put, HIA’s are thorough evaluations of all the public health consequences of an action (such as building a new facility, changing a policy, etc.). HIA’s can be a powerful tool for communities, businesses, government, health professionals, and other stakeholders to join together to maximize the protections from any given project by reducing undesired environmental, economic, or health consequences.
There are a lot of reasons to love Pittsburgh in the center of Allegheny County, but their air pollution is not one of them. Pittsburgh is one of the most up and coming cities in the country but it is also consistently ranked in the top counties for air pollution by the American Lung Association in their State of the Air reports. In the 2016 State of the Air report, the region landed as the 8th worst in the country for year-round measures on fine particle pollution (or soot), and the 14th worst for short-term particle pollution (the number of days with unhealthy particle levels when air quality is especially dangerous). Pittsburgh also ranked 26th worst in the nation for smog from ground level ozone. Asthma rates for the Pittsburgh region, especially children, exceed the national average and air pollution plays a big role in that.
It’s no secret that the meat industry causes serious damage to the environment. Factory farms produce significant air pollution in almost every stage of their operations, starting from the feed needed for the animals. Nitrogen fertilizer used to grow the feed produces nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas that causes nearly 300 times more warming than CO2 and depletes the ozone layer. Manure from the animals also emits ammonia, methane, CO2, and other pollutants. In total, the UN has estimated that the meat industry generates 18% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.