Mining up the truth

March 19, 2012

A long-awaited study by the National Cancer Institute has finally been released after 20 years of research on more than 12,000 miners, and more than 10 years of lobbying by the Miners Awareness Research Group, which tried to stop or stall the publication of findings. The results indicate that those miners directly exposed to diesel emissions (ever-underground workers) were some 3 times more likely to die of lung cancer than those exposed to low doses (surface workers), and 7 times more likely for miners who were also non-smokers.  An even clearer relationship was discovered by segregating those miners who had worked underground at some point with surface workers and comparing them, which revealed increasing risk with increasing direct exposure; however, even low exposure increased the risk for lung cancer 50% over the general public. The study began in the interest of building on similar studies that have insinuated a link between diesel exhaust and cancer.  Other entities have already made the connection, such as the state of California, which labelled diesel engine exhaust (DEE) a human carcinogen over a decade ago and has been acting accordingly ever since, with a huge diesel cleanup programprojected to reduce soot by 90% in three years.   In cities like Los Angeles, New York and Beijing, the average levels of respirable carbon in the air can often mirror the levels tested in the workers’ conditions in the study, which logically progresses to urban residents experiencing the same risk for lung cancer.  As one of the study authors, Debra Silverman states, “if the diesel exhaust/lung cancer relation is causal, the public health burden of the carcinogenicity of inhaled diesel exhaust in workers and in populations of urban areas with high levels of diesel exposure may be substantial.”

An editorial released along with the study suggests that although the results seem dismal, the best approach is to focus on the future, which can be changed by implementing the various engineering controls and upgrades to equipment, improved ventilation and education for better worker practices that have been refined in recent years. Allen Schaeffer, the Executive Director of the Diesel Technology Forum, recently issued a statement that boasts, “Advancements in diesel technology have consistently contributed to clean air progress around the country. …For example, over the last 10 years alone, emissions from heavy-duty diesel trucks and buses have been reduced by 99 percent for nitrogen oxides (NOx) – an ozone precursor – and 98 percent for particulate emissions.”

You can read the full journal articles on the study here and here.


UPMC Shows Strong Initiative In Limiting Emissions

March 9, 2012

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, with its multiple campuses and nearly four million admits per year (not including statistics from their satellite hospital in Sicily!), is well-known as one of the United State’s leading health care systems.  A recent action taken by UPMC policymakers proves that the organization’s commitment to its patrons is total – encompassing their well-being even after they exit their room and pass through the hospital doors on their way home.  In summary, UPMC requires that any construction equipment greater than 25 horsepower used on any UPMC property must meet the new federal Clean Air Act standards, regardless of whether the equipment is new or old, and regardless of when the standards go into effect on the national scale.  Construction equipment makes up a considerable portion of our region’s diesel particulate emissions and thus is an important sector to focus on cleaning up. A large construction site can create a public health risk for the surrounding community by consistently emitting large amounts of soot into the air. Hospitals have an obligation to promote healthy lifestyles and communities and to safeguard patients’ health, making UPMC’s announcement that much more significant.

More details can be found on UPMC’s website.

Harvard University Study Links Diabetes Epidemic to Airborne Soot

December 9, 2010

Over the past 15 years diabetes prevalence has more than doubled in the U.S. A major new study conducted by Harvard University researchers has established for the first time that particulate matter (PM2.5) in the air, a major component of diesel emissions, is linked to diabetes. Hundreds of medical studies have linked exposure to particulate matter to lung and heart disease and premature death, but this is the first nationwide study to quantitatively link diabetes to particulate matter exposure in U.S. cities.

Read the Allegheny County Partnership to Reduce Diesel Pollution’s press release here.

Also, check out the Post Gazette editorial, The dirt on diesel

ACHd approves $800,000 for diesel cleanup projects

December 9, 2010

The Diesel Partnership held a press conference near the dramtic backdrop of the old Children’s Hospital demolition site Thursday to announce The Allegheny County Health Department’s approval of $800,000 of Clean Air Fund money to be used to retrofit or repower construction equipment from small companies to make them much cleaner. GASP and Clean Water Action initiated this request and saw it through all the way to this victory. Applicants will be judged on criteria such as the amount of pollution they can reduce and the amount of business they do within the county. This pot of funding helps address industry concerns about a pending City Council bill which would require cleaner construction vehicles on large publicly-funded projects. Kudos to ACHD for approving this swiftly, and stay tuned for updates! Click here to see footage from the press conference.

EPA Grant to Help Green the Port of Pittsburgh Diesel emissions will be significantly reduced

July 30, 2010

Release date: 07/28/2010

Contact Information: Bonnie Smith, 215-814-5543, & Mary Anne Bucci, 412-201-7331,

PITTSBURGH, Pa. (July 28, 2010) – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today awarded a $1,156,838 grant to the Port of Pittsburgh Commission to oversee extensive repowering of four marine towing vessels with new, more efficient diesel engines and generators that will reduce air pollution, improve air quality and lessen overall environmental impacts. The grant was awarded under the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act.

“Putting clean diesel engines in these hard-working marine vessels will bring cleaner, healthier air for communities along the Port’s 200-miles of navigable waterways,” said EPA mid-Atlantic Regional Administrator Shawn M. Garvin. “EPA is pleased to support the Port of Pittsburgh in sustaining its operations while doing what’s necessary to protect people’s health and the environment.

EPA and the Port were joined by the Allegheny County Health Department, the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), Clean Water Action Network, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and representatives from the three cooperating companies – – Campbell Transportation Company, Consol Energy and River Salvage, Inc.

“This grant, and the actions of these companies, will take the greenest, least polluting mode of surface transportation, and make it even greener. Each tow of 15 barges moves the equivalent of over 1,000 trucks. This industry is very proud of the contribution we make to reducing congestion and air pollution. Just by taking trucks off of the roads, we serve industries that could not be located here without the waterways. Today we can be even prouder,” said James McCarville, Executive Director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.

In addition to EPA’s grant, the Pittsburgh Port Commission and three participating private companies will spend $1.97 million for a total of more than $3 million to repower the four vessels with cleaner burning engines. Each year, the engines will eliminate over 112 tons of nitrous oxide, 15 tons of carbon monoxide, five tons of particulate matter and two tons of hydrocarbons from the local air.

Clean diesel projects help address health issues including asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments.

The Port of Pittsburgh is the second busiest inland port in the U.S., moving 30 to 40 million tons of cargo a year worth $6.6 billion. The Port provides an annual benefit to the region of $873 million and provides 45,000 jobs. For more information on the Port see:

Following this morning’s media event at the Port, a workshop will be held at Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection’s Southwest Regional office to encourage additional diesel emission reduction projects throughout the region.

Visit EPA’s National Clean Diesel Campaign at
EPA’s website at Clean Ports USA at
EPA’s regional diesel website at

For additional local information visit: the Allegheny County Partnership to Reduce Diesel Pollution at

Air kisses: Middle schoolers rally for the environment

July 20, 2010 
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Out of the mouths of babes. Well, in this case, tweens. Young participants in an environmental summer camp took their quest for clean air to the West End Overlook on Thursday, hoping to persuade City Council to enact tougher measures.

Seventy-eight middle-school students are taking part in the nine-week Pittsburgh Cares E-Serve camp, which is designed to teach them about the environment and what individuals can do to help make the world cleaner, greener and healthier.

They did plenty of homework before holding their press conference and rally, complete with colorful signs and careful speeches. The Group Against Smog and Pollution conducted a workshop for them, teaching them several weeks ago about health hazards associated with diesel particulate emissions. The campers were told about a bill, already supported by four members of City Council, which would require contractors to use low-sulfur diesel fuel in vehicles operated at city-subsidized projects and tighten up their practices on stormwater management. That bill was the focus of the students’ demonstration.

It was a breath of fresh air to hear the young people speaking for themselves on an important public policy. We hope all nine City Council members were listening.

Read more:

Campers call attention to environmental legislation before City Council

July 16, 2010

Campers call attention to environmental legislation before City Council
Youth raise a chant for clean air
Friday, July 16, 2010
By Katie Falloon, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Rebecca Droke/Post-Gazette
Paw Parheat, left, 13, and Chris Thorpe, 11, shout “Clean air now!” at a press conference demanding clean air for Pittsburgh at the West End Overlook. Kids from the Pittsburgh Cares E-Serve summer camp are supporting the Clean Air Bill introduced in city council.

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.

Katie Falloon: or 412-263-1723.

Read more: