Updated: Sep 9
Earth Week is a great annual reminder of the importance of being in the know about local air quality issues, as well as getting involved with, and using your voice to, affect environmental change.
And this Earth Week, GASP wants to help you do that:
Get in the Know
It’s been said many times, in many ways: Knowledge is power. This is especially true when it comes to air quality issues. Because we know *just* how complex and confusing air quality issues can be, we created the GASP’s Plain-Language Guide to Understanding Local Air Quality.
In this guide, we give you the skinny on what air pollutants are a concern locally, where it comes from, how air quality is regulated, as well as how to make an air quality complaint when you smell something foul in the ambient air.
Understanding what’s in the air will help you mitigate your exposure to air pollutants by keeping an eye on air quality data sources.
Our local air quality regulator, the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) has an entire section of its website dedicated to air quality. It includes many resources such as:
An air quality dashboard featuring current air quality data from county air quality monitors. Users can also look at air quality over time or during a specific time frame.
A spreadsheet showing hourly air quality data by monitor
An online portal that allows users to create an account and file air quality complaints electronically. Reports can also be made anonymously, which does not require the creation of an account. Residents may also call the health department to make an air quality or odor complaint at 412-412-350-4636.
In addition, there are a number of websites where you can obtain real-time air quality information:
ACCAN Camera – Allegheny County Clean Air Now partnered with the CREATE Lab to deploy 24/7 documentation of the industrial pollution that harms our health and environment with views of air pollution sources in Neville Township and Emsworth. You can check that on ACCAN’s website.
Breathe Project’s Breathe Cams – The Breathe Project operates Breathe Cams, which provide high-resolution, zoomable, 24-hour live feeds of Pittsburgh’s skyline, as well as the Mon Valley and the Ohio River Valley.
PurpleAir.com – PurpleAir monitors are relatively low-cost, easy-to-install sensors that give real-time data for levels of particulate matter. When you visit the website, you can search your geographic location to see readings in your area.
SmellPGH – The Smell PGH app was developed by Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, with support from the Heinz Endowments in collaboration with clean air groups like GASP to crowdsource smell so researchers can track how pollutants travel across the Pittsburgh area.
Making an effort to understand air quality issues is just the first step. Once you’re in the know, it’s time to move to Step 2: Getting involved and making sure your voice is heard.
Here are a couple of ways to do that:
Consider writing a letter to the editor. They make a difference. So if sharing your standpoint on an issue you care deeply about isn’t enough to nudge you to use your writing chops, consider this: Letters to the editor could help determine news coverage. Why? Because the job of news editors is to help determine what issues are most important to readers, which helps determines coverage. LTEs also send a clear message to policymakers about the issues to which they need to devote more time, attention, and resources. It can also help spur regulatory and legislative change.
Show up. There are so many events you can attend either in person or online to learn more about local environmental issues, as well as regularly scheduled meetings of local and county boards. Check out GASP’s events page and consider attending an upcoming meeting or rally – like the one that our friends at PennEnviroment are planning before the May meeting of the Allegheny County Board of Health. If you can’t make a meeting, please know that you can still weigh in on issues being mulled at one by submitting written public comments.
You can also join and otherwise help support the organizations on the front lines of air quality and environmental advocacy. Consider becoming a member of GASP and be sure to bookmark our website, and join the conversation by liking us on Facebook and Instagram and following us on Twitter.