GASP was honored to join U.S. Rep. Summer Lee and fellow environmental and public health advocates for a press conference to celebrate new investments in community-level air quality monitoring that will help protect residents of Southwestern Pennsylvania from harmful pollution.
In case you missed it: Southwestern Pennsylvania groups (including GASP) have already been awarded nearly $2 million to monitor levels of harmful air pollution. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is issuing an additional $236 million in IRA funds nationwide for air monitoring, including grants for monitoring near industrial facilities, multipollutant monitoring, and air quality sensors in disadvantaged communities.
“This new funding speaks directly to the need to place marginalized communities front and center on efforts to combat decades of environmental racism,” Lee said. “Our region has some of the worst air quality in the country, with higher rates of asthma and cancer particularly impacting Black and brown communities. The IRA is a powerful tool to help us monitor and protect our environment, and it will put to rest any doubts on the harm caused by carbon pollution and fossil fuel corporations that have disregarded our most vulnerable frontline communities for generations.”
Innamorato highlighted the urgent need to address the region’s air quality.
“Pittsburgh and Allegheny County were ranked among the top 15 most polluted cities in the country last year for year-round particle pollution. This is clearly a pressing issue for our communities,” she said. “The added transparency of local air quality monitoring is going to help expand our ability to seek environmental justice and bring further accountability to the worst carbon polluters. We’re putting an important tool directly in the hands of those communities that are most impacted by big polluters.”
In light of the industrial, fracking, and petrochemical plant activities in our region of PA – which includes the Shell Ethane Plant natural gas flaring and Equitrans underground wells leaking 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas – the air quality monitoring systems already in place reflect the longstanding concerns of local residents.
“Our region has been grappling with the consequences that come with air pollution for a long time, among them higher rates of asthma,” Strassburger said. “We’ve made some progress in reducing harmful pollution, but this new air quality monitoring capacity will really allow us to focus our efforts on the worst industrial polluters, among them the Toxic Ten, that still need to prioritize their workers’ health and the community’s health.”
Public health and environmental leaders explained what IRA funding will mean for the region.
“This investment in citizen air monitoring will help educate and empower our neighbors in underserved environmental justice communities," GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell said. "GASP is excited to get started and is hopeful the project will fill in the air quality monitoring gaps locally and equip residents with the data they need to understand what's in the air they're breathing and what actions they can take to both mitigate their exposure and be environmental change-makers in their communities."
FracTracker Alliance Executive Shannon Smith said the investment will further support efforts to cut harmful pollution and protect public health.
“Heavily industrialized communities in the Ohio River Valley have some of the lowest-ranking health indices in the nation, in part due to poor air quality,” said Shannon Smith, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance. “Over the past few years, residents have taken it upon themselves to set up monitoring systems with the means available to them.”
While grateful for the recent grant, speakers expanded on how the region should position itself to aggressively pursue additional EPA funding.
"EHP is a partner on four of the EPA grants selected for funding,” said Environmental Health Project Executive Director Alison L. Steele. “These grants are a good first step in ensuring that families have access to clean air. We look forward to working with our partners to better protect public health in the Southwestern Pennsylvania region, and defend frontline communities from pollution.”
“In the wake of the recent East Palestine train derailment and the Shell ethane cracker plant polluting its yearly allowance in just two months, the value of local air monitoring has never been more clear,” said Vanessa Lynch, Pennsylvania State Coordinator for Moms Clean Air Force. “The work of frontline community organizations like FracTracker, GASP and the Environmental Health Project to monitor and hold local air polluters responsible for their actions has never been more essential to protecting families and the air we breathe.”
With some members of Congress seeking to undermine these critical investments, speakers all shared the urgent need for continued bold climate action. The event concluded with speakers urging the Biden administration to finish the job on climate and implement solutions for pollution to help slash climate pollution in half by 2030.
You can check out a recording of the event here.