On Nov. 14, 2014 on the campus of Chatham University, a panel of experts discussed clean construction trends, funding opportunities, and current Pittsburgh-based projects that are utilizing clean construction.
Clean construction incorporates new practices, equipment standards, and job site management strategies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and toxic air pollutants, and to minimize site disturbances and community disruption. Participants included experts from Chatham University, Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy, UPMC, Allegheny County Health Department, Sota Construction, and PJ Dick.
GASP and Clean Water Action applauded both Chatham University and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy for requiring contractors to minimize diesel emissions during construction of their new facilities at the Eden Hall Campus and the Frick Environmental Center, respectively.
“Cleaning up construction sites benefits the health of construction workers operating the equipment as well as the many people who live and work near these projects,” said Rachel Filippini, executive director of GASP. “We are so pleased to see Chatham University and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy adopting clean construction practices. We hope other organizations will see that this offers direct, tangible benefits to the surrounding community in the form of better air quality.”
Diesel particulate matter is the greatest inhalation air toxics cancer risk in the region.¹ Diesel exhaust contains many toxic air pollutants, carcinogens, ozone precursors, and fine particulate matter. Exposure to fine particles causes asthma attacks, heart attacks, lung cancer, strokes, and premature deaths.
People living in southwestern Pennsylvania have a significantly higher-than-average risk of developing cancer due to exposure to toxic air pollution, including diesel emissions. Thankfully there are many strategies for reducing diesel pollution, including replacing old equipment, retrofitting equipment to meet new emissions standards, and curtailing unnecessary idling.
“Reducing emissions from construction equipment will have a significant effect on diesel pollution in the region,” said Cassi Steenblok, Program Manager of Clean Water Action.
According to the Northeast Diesel Collaborative, the construction industry uses more diesel engines than any other sector. A significant number of the two million diesel engines currently used in construction equipment across the nation were manufactured before the introduction of emissions regulations.
“We applaud Chatham University and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy for taking this positive step on their construction sites and for their commitment to environmental stewardship and public health in Pittsburgh,” Steenblok added.
Innovative grant programs, such as the Build it With Clean Diesel program, funded by the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) and managed by the Mid Atlantic Regional Air Management Association (MARAMA), will make it possible for qualified small construction companies to upgrade their fleet and thus bid on projects that have clean construction requirements.
The benefits of a clean construction policy to local institutions include: Health – Direct, tangible benefits to the surrounding community and workers in the form of improved air quality and more pleasant experience on-site while construction projects are underway. Sustainability – Reduced emissions of black carbon, which offers important short‐term climate change benefits. Community Relations – Reducing air pollution from construction is a great way to show a commitment to being a good neighbor and create a positive presence within the surrounding community. Fundraising – An attractive talking point when appealing to prospective donors for their support of an upcoming project.
The Pittsburgh region continues to struggle with poor air quality and ranks as one of the top 10 most polluted cities in the nation with regard to short- and long-term particle pollution.² Reducing diesel emissions at construction sites is one strategy for improving local air quality. Poor air quality created by diesel emissions damages our community’s health, especially the health of children and the elderly, who are more vulnerable to air pollution.
Construction workers receive the most potent, toxic dose of diesel emissions, as they work around that equipment each day. Two major studies of health risks from diesel pollution from the National Cancer Institute and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health underscore the need to reduce diesel emissions.
The studies examined the public health risks from diesel pollution by looking at 12,000 mining industry workers exposed to diesel carbon particles. They found an astonishing three-fold increased risk of both lung cancer and premature mortality among this study sample. Furthermore, the researchers found that lifetime exposure to diesel exhaust in some U.S. urban areas with high levels of diesel pollution could carry similar risks.
According to the study, other workers who are continuously exposed to diesel exhaust are particularly at risk, such as the 1.8 million heavy truck drivers and 460,000 heavy construction equipment operators in this country as estimated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2008.
To learn more about GASP’s work in reducing diesel pollution, please visit our Project page here.
¹ PITTSBURGH REGIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL THREATS ANALYSIS (PRETA) REPORT, Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, August 2013.