Abstraction in Steel, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 24thcentury’s photostream

While Pittsburgh has been called “America’s Most Livable City,” there is one area where we consistently rank among the worst: the quality of our air. There’s no doubt that we’ve made vast improvements over the decades, but air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania remains among the worst in the nation. Pittsburgh has ranked in the top five worst cities for fine air particulate pollution for the past five years. Our air contains such toxic heavy metals as mercury, arsenic and chromium 6. The consequences for our health are enormous and include asthma, heart attacks, cancer and premature death. Our poor air quality is also a detriment to both people and businesses moving to this area. This summer, Pittsburgh City Council passed the Clean Air Act in an attempt to address the problem, but much more needs to be done.

The Breathe Project is a coalition of individual citizens and 40 industry, government, nonprofit and business organizations in southwestern Pennsylvania working together to clean up our air pollution. The coalition includes the Heinz Endowments which has put its “considerable influence and $7 million” towards the project according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Some concrete steps towards solving the problem have already been identified (also from the P-G):

Mr. Vagt [Heinz Endowments president] said the Breathe Project has already identified a number of initiatives for investment, including adding $900,000 to a Clean Diesel Construction Equipment Retrofit Fund established by the Allegheny County Health Department to defray costs for small construction companies to comply with new emissions reduction regulations.

Other initiatives will include a $287,000 study to determine the feasibility of converting Port Authority buses to natural gas fuel; a $120,000 pilot project by Carnegie Mellon University in East Liberty that will develop a light signal system that aids traffic flow; a large scale planting program to add 20,000 trees to city streets in the next three years; an analysis of the economic benefits of air quality improvements; and a “Mayors Summit” meeting to gather information from other cities that have successfully reduced air pollution.

You can help in the fight. The Breathe Project website’s ACT page has many actions that individuals can pledge to take from doing a home energy audit to purchasing green credits to riding a bike. You can also “like” them on Facebook and view their video below to learn more about the project: