On a warm and sunny Thursday afternoon, 50 middle school students from across the Pittsburgh area — dressed in matching lime green T-shirts — marched up to the West End Overlook, intermittently shouting “Clean air now!”
The students, part of the Pittsburgh Cares E-Serve camp, were participating in a 1 p.m. news conference intended to encourage Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith to support the clean air bill currently before City Council. Ms. Kail-Smith represents District 2, which includes the West End where the camp is located.
A news conference seemed like a great method of civic advocacy, said Meg Schrek, E-Serve program manager and program assistant with Pittsburgh Cares.
And so students in the free nine-week environmental service camp gathered before a sweeping view of the Pittsburgh skyline, holding up colorful signs with a variety of messages such as “Air pollution is no solution.”
Three girls delivered short speeches about the potential dangers of diesel in the air and the importance of the clean air bill, which would require contractors to use low-sulfur diesel fuel in vehicles operated at city-subsidized project sites. Contractors would also have to install diesel particulate filters on those vehicles.
After a “Clean air now!” chant, students milled about, waiting for an assistant to Ms. Kail-Smith to arrive.
Ms. Kail-Smith said Thursday that previously scheduled meetings prevented her from attending.
Lori Marabello attended in Ms. Kail-Smith’s stead, praising the students for learning about the environment and listening as they re-read their speeches to her.
Ms. Kail-Smith said that while the bill is one she will definitely consider supporting, there are concerns that need to be worked out, including the impact on development in Pittsburgh and how businesses, especially small ones, will cope with the changes the bill demands.
The bill, which currently has four co-sponsors, needs to be approved by five council members to pass and six to be veto-proof, said Jamin Bogi, education and outreach coordinator at the nonprofit Group Against Smog and Pollution.
The group helped prepare campers for the news conference by hosting a workshop a few weeks ago, Mr. Bogi said. During the workshop, students learned about diesel particulates, which can aggravate asthma and even cause premature death, he said.
Rachel Filippini, GASP’s executive director, added that while part of the group’s goal is to benefit future generations, “it’s also about instilling in these kids some stewardship for their natural resources.”
One camper seems to already have that sense of stewardship firmly in place. Shishir Timsina, 10, of Prospect wants to be an “animal rescuer” when he grows up.
When asked what he learned at camp, Shishir replied, “I learned about smog, how to help people, and how to make friends.”
The camp, which has 78 participants, is currently in its fourth week. Students who complete all 100 hours of the camp receive a $500 education bond.