As reported by Lisa Graves-Marcucci of the Environmental Integrity Project.
Over 175 people gathered for an evening of poignant images and discussion of pollution problems in western Pennsylvania communities. The ‘Stories, The Science and The Solutions’ event, hosted by Chatham University’s School of Sustainability and the Environment and the Rachel Carson Institute, was a collaborative effort of the Sierra Club, Clean Water Action, Women for a Healthy Environment, the Center for Coalfield Justice, PennFuture, the Environmental Integrity Project and the Group Against Smog and Pollution.
Featured among the many speakers were Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporters and photographers, whose eight-part Mapping Mortality series, gave face to the dramatically high premature death statistics attributed to diseases linked to air pollution. Many of the folks featured in this important investigative piece had starring roles in the newly released documentary of the same name.
Reporters Don Hopey and Dave Templeton explained how the project was based on shockingly high premature death rates in 14 western Pennsylvania counties, combined with science and personal stories. Their year-long research found that 14,636 more people died from heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer in the region from 2000 through 2008 than the national average would predict.
The real-life impact of this dangerous pollution was made clear by citizens living near chronic polluters: Deb Evans, mother of four, Elrama, PA– Marty Garrigan, resident of Springdale, PA, home of Rachel Carson – and Barbara Reed, living near Little Blue coal ash impoundment all spoke about the dangers they face living near coal fired power plants. Janet Stahosky, resident of Neville Island shared concerns about too much pollution and too little enforcement by the Allegheny County Health Department and Herman Marshman, President of IBEW Local 272 shared his concerns for the health of the workers at the Bruce Mansfield power plant.
Experts, Neil Donahue (Carnegie Mellon Univ) and John Graham (Clean Air Task Force) agreed that pollution is slowly on the decline, but SW Pennsylvania residents continue to experience higher than average death rates. And these experts agreed that enforcement of the Clean Air Act is paramount to protecting public health.
Jacqueline Lewis and Cathleen Kennedy, both from US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), Region III in Philadelphia explained that enforcement of the Clean Air Act can protect health and create jobs.
Citizens and environmental groups see the Post-Gazette series as confirmation that the US EPA should be allowed to continue their work to protect public health.