Posted: Thursday, September 29, 2011 - 21:54
By Grant Oliphant
President and CEO
The Pittsburgh Foundation
Pittsburgh’s civic leaders have long struggled with how best to reverse the tide of environmental damage attributed to our region’s industrial heritage. Despite the progress that has been made over the past few decades to improve air quality, the fact remains that when it comes to clean air the City of Champions still trails woefully behind the rest of the nation. We are moving in the right direction, bu
t unfortunately not fast enough to mitigate the very serious health risks posed to our community by air pollution.
This is why I am delighted that the Heinz Endowments has established the Clean Air Fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation. The Endowments commitment to improving air quality in this region is a testament to both their foresight and leadership and I applaud their efforts to take on this serious public health crisis at this critical time.
It is well established that the levels of air pollution in Pittsburgh routinely exceed the federal threshold for harm to human health. Over the past six years the American Lung Association has assigned the Pittsburgh region very poor air-quality rankings in its annual State of the Air report. Historically policy makers were under the impression that high levels were the result of coal fired power plants in Ohio or the coke works in Clairton, making local solutions to the problem seem beside the point.
But thanks to research commissioned by the Heinz Endowments, findings were released earlier this year that dispelled this myth and revealed that Pennsylvania sources may account for one-half to two-thirds of the fine particulate matter pollution in the Pittsburgh region. Although at first this may not sound like good news, it is actually very empowering. A discovery as simple as this has changed the way we think about air quality in Pittsburgh and has encouraged The Heinz Endowments to commit to a region wide Clean Air campaign.
Air quality is a ubiquitous issue that impacts not only the physical health of our citizens but also the health of our economy. This effort underscores that a clean environment and improved quality of life are integral to maintaining and improving our competitiveness as a region. The Clean Air Initiative has activated all parts of our community to make a difference by involving citizens, government, academics and perhaps most importantly, industry, in combating this environmental blight.
Here at The Pittsburgh Foundation we are aware that providing leadership on a critical community issue is never an easy task. And playing the role of the proverbial “skunk at the garden party” by telling our community that our air is not as clean as we might like to think, takes courage. That’s why we are honored to support the work of the Heinz Endowments in this endeavor and lend our encouragement to our colleagues as they strive to make this region more livable for everyone in our community.