Environment

National Digital Library of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikipedia

In 2012 a symposium was held in Pittsburgh, at Chatham University and the National Aviary, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Rachel Carson’s ground breaking book "Silent Spring."

Out of that symposium came the idea to develop a documentary about the late environmentalist-author’s life and humanitarian efforts, in a film called "The Power of One Voice." 

Producer/director Mark Dixon and Patricia DeMarco, former executive director of the Rachel Carson Institute at Chatham University teamed up with the Steeltown Entertainment Project, Carson's biographer Linda Lear and Carson's adopted son Roger Christie. 

Pittsburgh's Improving Water Quality

Jan 7, 2015
Joseph / Flickr

Although not as apparent today, Pittsburgh was once one of the top industrial cities in America- and one of the dirtiest.

Often described as “hell with the lid off,” Pittsburgh of old was a city of dark noons where workers had to change their white shirts during the day. Since the Steel City’s mid-century renaissance, the air quality has improved significantly.

Improving the water quality of the famed three rivers- which were often used as garbage disposal by past residents- has been a longer process.

But encouraging news came out of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection recently, when they announced that the Monongahela River had been removed from the department’s list of Rivers with Impaired Drinking Water.

The department’s Deputy Secretary of Water Management Kelly Heffner said that though this was a step in the right direction, there is still plenty of work to be done in Western Pennsylvania.

Ohio Earthquakes Linked to Hydraulic Fracturing

Jan 6, 2015
Nicholas Tonelli / Flickr

Researchers at Miami University in Ohio have concluded fracking was most likely the cause of earthquakes that have taken place in the state.

Last March, 77 earthquakes occurred in Poland, Ohio, a town near the PA-OH state line. Reporter Julie Grant of the Allegheny Front joins us to discuss this recent report.

Top Views of 2014: Seagulls Flock to Pittsburgh

Dec 22, 2014
Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back on 2014 and airing some of the Essential Pittsburgh stories that were most popular on our website, wesa.fm.

To hear the full-length audio for this story, please refer to the original post.

Back in February 2014, Pittsburghers were surprised to find thousands of seagulls making the North Shore their temporary home. We spoke with Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist at the National Aviary, who explained that the gulls migrated to Pittsburgh because of the extreme weather conditions created by the Polar Vortex.

Natasha Khan / PublicSource

About a dozen St. Marys officials, outfitted with baggy blue jumpsuits, earplugs and white plastic hard hats, recently visited a Seneca Resources well pad on a wooded hilltop to see what fracking is all about.

This part of Pennsylvania, about 120 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Elk County, has been relatively untouched by shale drilling. But people see it coming in two test wells Seneca has there now, with more wells in the future.

Heinz Endowments

As revilers traipse around downtown looking at holiday lights Friday night and through the rest of the holiday season, the Breathe Project hopes they will take a few moments to learn a little bit about the region’s air quality.

The work titled Particle Falls is being projected on the façade of the Benedum Center on Penn Avenue. Its cascading lights give viewers a real-time look at how much pollution is in the air above their heads. To be more specific, it measures the fine particulate mater in the air.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

A group of 50 climate activists made their way into Pittsburgh from Los Angeles Tuesday — on foot.

The Great March for Climate Action” is the brainchild of former Iowa State Representative Ed Fallon.

He said the idea came to him last February, after a discussion with environmental activist Bill McKibben about how best to address the what he calls the “climate crisis.”

“It’s not an issue; it’s a crisis,” Fallon said.

Bill Would Eliminate Buffer Requirement For Pennsylvania’s Cleanest Streams

Oct 13, 2014
Scott Lamar / WITF

Yet another battle of the economy versus the environment is taking place in Harrisburg. This time, conservationists say Pennsylvania’s cleanest streams are at stake.

A bill (HB1565) working its way through the state legislature would eliminate a requirement for 150-foot buffer zones between new developments and specially protected watersheds.

Drawing Connections Between WWI and Climate Change

Aug 8, 2014
Imperial War Museum / Wikipedia

While there is little doubt in the scientific community that the globe is getting warmer, many countries balk over climate regulations given the perceived cost of such action.

David Titley, the director of Penn State's Center for Solutions to Weather and Climate Risk, believes there is connection between the climate battles of today and World War I, the world’s greatest danger a century ago.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

As two days of hearings on the proposed EPA rules to cut carbon emissions, protesters and supporters gathered for rallies and marches outside of the Federal Building. Before the hearings got underway Thursday, downtown streets were relatively quiet. One small group had set up a stand on the corner of Liberty Avenue and Tenth Street speaking out against the proposed rules and calling for the impeachment of President Obama.

What Role Will Coal Play in Pennsylvania's Future?

Jul 30, 2014
Joseph A / flickr

Coal has long played an important role in the history of western Pennsylvania. It was coal that was excavated in the areas surrounding Pittsburgh, and then shipped to the city where it was used to power the steel mills.

It made for an effective system of production, but the smog that blanketed the city could turn days into nights.

Following World War II, civic leaders sought to clean up Pittsburgh, and reducing smog was particularly important. That struggle continues today- coal is still a major player in local energy, but the government is still looking to further curtail its pollution.

The EPA announced it’s Clean Power Plan in June, and hearings are being held this week in several U.S. cities. One of those cities is Pittsburgh- the biggest city in Appalachia, the heart of coal country. Environmentalists strongly support the reforms, but plenty of citizens in the region worry about a loss of jobs and an increase in energy prices.

Marcus Charleston / WESA

From annoying ringtones to everyday noise pollution, it seems like our world is getting noisier. The Wonder Boys, Ellis Robinson and Daniel Tkacik of “I Wonder PGH,” went in search of an answer. Their findings are revealed in a thrilling installment of the Mysteries of Pittsburgh. They wondered, was it this hard to find silent spaces 50 or even 100 years ago?

Robinson and Tkacik spoke with author George Prochnik, who answered this question with the research he has done for his latest book, The Pursuit of Silence.

“It can be difficult to make the argument that things are noisier in the sense that everywhere there are higher volumes today than there were in the past. At the same time, there’s not necessarily more noise everywhere, there’s less silence.”

TV Dumping, A Growing Problem Throughout the Region

Jul 10, 2014
Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

In 2010 a statewide ban was passed as part of the Covered Device Recycling Act. It called for electronic waste, or E-Waste to be taken to approved recycling drop-off sites. However, discarded televisions have been showing up curbside throughout the city.

Justin Stockdale, western regional director of the PA Resources Council said the problem tends to be caused by a lack of knowledge of the proper methods of getting rid of old televisions. The largest problem is figuring out which facilities take them, a task even Stockdale admits can be difficult.

“Many of these processors, even Goodwill industries, in fact, was collecting TVs up until about the middle of last year and realized, again, they were confronted with the same problem: they don’t generate enough revenue as part of this OEM sponsored program, to cover the cost of management. And so they step away from it, and now we’re left with Best Buy stores, Construction Junction,  our PRC operated events, and that’s about it for western Pennsylvania.”

If a resident does leave a television to be picked up by collectors, Stockdale says the city will often place a sticker on the discarded television. These stickers do not issue fines for residents, but Stockdale says some provide information in the form of a website link, to where residents can take their old televisions to be recycled.

Kaye Burnet / 90.5 WESA

In the hilly regions of western Pennsylvania, lawn care can be a nuisance. Sometimes, dragging lawn mowers and weed whackers up and down hillsides seems like more trouble than it’s worth. That’s why environmental non-profit Tree Pittsburgh found a creative solution to clearing undergrowth on tricky terrain—goats.

Tree Pittsburgh hired consultant Brian Knox from Eco-Goats and rented more than 30 goats from local farm Goodness Grows to clear dense plant growth from a hillside near West Penn Park in Polish Hill.

Colony Collapse & the Buzz on Beekeeping in Pittsburgh

Jul 7, 2014
Justin Leonard / Flickr

Two years ago we took a look at the world of urban farming in Pittsburgh, with a focus on beekeeping in particular. As in many cities, those who want to build apiaries in Pittsburgh have had to jump through various bureaucratic hoops and deal with the myths and fears surrounding honeybees.

President Obama recently stressed the importance of preserving our honeybee populations for the sake of food security. And the White House has even announced plans to form a task force to investigate honeybee colony collapse.

With renewed attention on the decline of pollinators, Steve Repasky, President of Burgh Bees and David Tarpy, Professor and Extension Apiculturist in the Department of Entomology at North Carolina State University are working to preserve the honeybees in Pittsburgh and the rest of the country.

Repasky said the local laws for beekeeping have not changed within the last two years, and the rules for keeping bees are pretty strict. But he thinks there has been a good push for positive change in Pittsburgh, and hopes to get a change in the urban agriculture ordinance.

Green Workplace Challenge Winners Announced

Jul 7, 2014

The results are in for the 2013-2014 Green Workplace Challenge, and seven local organizations have been honored for their environmentally friendly facility improvements.

FedEX Ground, DMI Companies, Pashek Associates, Allegheny County, the University of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County Sanitary Authority, and Conservation Consultants Inc. received the highest scores in their various categories of competition.

When it Comes to High-Tech Roofing...Plastic Bottles are Key

Jun 30, 2014
Reuse Everything Institute / Facebook

Reuse Everything Institute, a local non-profit, has created an innovative means of reusing wasted plastic bottles. The non-profit has developed a business solution that could help people in developing countries out of poverty.

Institute founders, David Saiia and Vananh Le hope to use plastic bottles to create high-tech thatch-style roofing. Le says the affordability for consumers is the main focus of REII.

“The roof is high in quality, and we want to make it affordable to the consumer. It requires much less energy than recycling in that we are automating our process. The machine that David created was hand cranked, now we are automating it so that we make it more cost effective for people, generally, pretty much to run mom and pop businesses. So, we actually don’t melt the plastic like recycling, we just cut it into continuous strips of ribbon and convert them into other products.”

Update on the Green Building Alliance 2030 Challenge

Apr 23, 2014
Andy / Wikipedia Commons

In 2012, Pittsburgh was one of four cities nationwide to launch the 2030 Challenge. The challenge is a voluntary, private-public initiative with the goal of reducing the environmental impact of buildings, by reducing energy and water use as well as transmission emissions.

Finding the Value of Agriculture in Communities of Color

Mar 6, 2014
Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

Today marks the beginning of the 6th annual Kinks, Locks & Twists: Environmental and Reproductive Justice conference.

New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice coordinates the event and facilitates conversations on health, wellness, and the environment as they pertain to communities of color.

LaTasha Mayes, Founder and Executive Director of New Voices Pittsburgh discussed the evolution of the conference and its connection to the community over the years.

Credit Mary Birdsong / Presque Isle Audubon

Next week, the Allegheny Front radio program on 90.5 WESA begins Climate Chronicles, a year-long series about the impacts of climate change on our region.

Senior Reporter Julie Grant starts the series with a look at the biggest movement of snowy owls in 50 years, and what it might say about climate change.

She said she started looking at the big white birds, popularized by a character in Harry Potter called Hedwig, because of some unusual sightings.

Heather McClain / 90.5 WESA

Thousands of birds, commonly called seagulls, have made a rare migration south to roost at Pittsburgh’s North Shore.

Bob Mulvihill, an ornithologist at the National Aviary said the gulls ("seagull" is actually a colloquial term, he explained), normally roost at the Great Lakes this time of year, but the extreme cold from the polar vortex has frozen the surfaces.

creepyed / flickr

Resolution season was never a big deal in my house growing up. When someone in my family attempted a resolution, it was always health related. And the endeavor was usually abandoned by Valentine's Day, only to be rekindled at Lent, then ditched again.

The goals that actually stuck were the ones inspired by lessons learned randomly throughout the year, usually with an emphasis on social good. For example, after returning from environmental summer camp one year, I convinced my family to always snip the plastic rings that hold 6-packs of soda. The uncut rings are extremely harmful to aquatic life.

In the process of exploring 2014 resolution ideas, I came across an inspiring list for teens and parents from The Road Less Traveled - ideas I could have used in the 1990s and great ones for today.

State Awards Grant to Assess Atom Smasher Site

Dec 24, 2013

The site of the world’s first industrial atom smasher will be environmentally assessed and remediated for future development.

An $88,000 grant given to Forest Hills Borough from the state will help pay for the study of the Westinghouse Atom Smasher, the light bulb-shaped building situated near Chalfant Borough.

State Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said there is a lot of work to be done before remediation can take place.

Reid Frazier / Allegheny Front

On a Thursday morning in June, Antionette West was lying on a couch in her trailer not far from a row of chemical plants near the Mississippi River in Geismer, Lousiana, when the house began to shake.

She initially thought there had been an explosion at a vinyl chloride plant about a mile away, where there had been an explosion less than a year before. This time though, she saw black smoke coming from another direction.

A new survey by the University of Pittsburgh and PittsburghTODAY found that 65 percent of the region’s citizens view air quality as either a minor problem, or not a problem at all.

This is despite continually low air quality rankings by the American Lung Association.

Doug Heuck, Director of PittsburghTODAY, said many people mistakenly think that because they can’t see the air pollution, it’s not there.

Brian Chan / Flickr

According to a more report conclusive from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and internationally renowned climatologist, Dr. Raymond Bradley, global temperatures have risen rapidly in the last 100 years, especially in the last 50 years. Experiments have also proven that greenhouse gases do create more heat in the atmosphere.

In addition to raising temperatures, greenhouse gases change precipitation patterns, meaning some areas that usually have heavy rainfall experience dry spells, and other areas get extremely heavy rainfall. Bradley says these effects will continue to occur more often if greenhouse gases continue to fill the atmosphere.

Environmentalists are criticizing Pennsylvania power plants for their carbon emissions and are calling for more stringent regulations.

PennEnvironment’s report shows that, nationwide, the commonwealth has the third highest amount of power plant-borne pollution.

It comes in anticipation of federally proposed emissions regulations on new plants this year and existing plants next year.

Pennsylvania’s Climate Change Future: Read The Missing Report

Sep 10, 2013

A pair of legally-mandated reports outlining how climate change will affect Pennsylvania are currently a year overdue.

The state’s Climate Change Act required the publication of both reports in 2009, followed by an update every three years.

Both documents were due last year, but they’re still under review, and the state Department of Environmental Protection won’t say when they will be released.

How Could OSHA’s New Silica Rules Impact The Natural Gas Industry?

Aug 29, 2013

Federal labor officials are proposing new rules to help prevent an old hazard of the trade: diseases caused by breathing in silica dust. Silicosis has long been a plight of workers in construction and manufacturing, but concerns have shifted in recent years to those who toil in the growing natural gas industry.

Sand is an important ingredient in most fracking fluid recipes. It’s mixed with chemicals and water and blasted deep underground where the tiny grains help keep cracks in the shale rock open for all that natural gas to come through.

Pittsburgh 2030 District Challenge

Aug 8, 2013
Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

It’s been a year since the beginning of Pittsburgh’s 2030 District Challenge. The private-public initiative aims to cut energy, water and transportation consumption of downtown buildings in half by the year 2030.

According to Sean Luther, Director of the Green Building Alliance, a number of the big name buildings have signed on to the program’s pledge. Some of the most notable buildings include the US Steel Building and one of the oldest buildings downtown, the Allegheny Courthouse. In total, the buildings involved in the challenge account for more than 50% of downtown’s square footage.

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