Healthy Air Day in Pittsburgh

(March 21, 2012)

Today the American Lung Association joined with fellow health organizations, community advocates and Pittsburgh residents for “Healthy Air Day,” a day of action to raise awareness about the dangers of dirty air in light of recent attempts by Congress to let big industrial polluters emit unlimited amounts of toxic pollution. While activities were focused in Pittsburgh, the Lung Association asked all Pennsylvanians to participate in Healthy Air Day by calling Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senators, Robert P. Casey Jr. and Patrick Toomey, to urge them to support clean air and oppose any attempts to weaken, delay or block clean air protections.

At an event held this morning at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, participants including Deb Brown, CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid Atlantic, Donald Burke, MD, Dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, and Julie Franks, a local mother of asthmatic children, addressed the crowd about the need to fight attempts by Congress to weaken common sense standards that protect Pennsylvanians from breathing dirty, dangerous air. Air pollution can worsen the symptoms for the estimated 266,042 children with asthma, 3,427,771 people with cardiovascular disease, and 204,087 people who have emphysema in Pennsylvania.
The latest attacks on clean air come as the Obama administration is implementing new standards for toxic power plant pollution and is contemplating the first ever standards for industrial carbon pollution. 

“Toxic air pollution from power plants makes Pennsylvanians sick, damages children’s brains, triggers asthma attacks and heart attacks, causes cancer and results in premature deaths,” said Brown. “Basic, sensible safety standards for pollution were finalized late last year, but already opponents in Congress are trying to dismantle them and prevent any future safeguards from being implemented. Pennsylvania families cannot wait a day longer for these critical measures -- the health and safety of our communities should not be sacrificed in order to line the already bulging pockets of energy companies.”

Allegheny County is regularly ranked as one of the worst in the nation for air quality, and last year, the Lung Association ranked Pittsburgh as the third worst city in the nation for short-term particle pollution. In Pennsylvania alone, there are 33 coal-fired power plants which emit over 80 toxic air pollutants.  Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency finalized their mercury and air toxics standards, which will reduce toxic emissions from coal- and oil-fired power plants. Despite the evidence on air pollution’s effects on public health, Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK) recently proposed a plan to thwart these efforts. His proposal would eliminate safety standards for new power plants and instead, give the industry free reign to spew unlimited amounts of toxic air pollution.

“As a mother of two young children with asthma, I know firsthand how poor air quality can affect the lives of the most vulnerable,” said Franks, a Pittsburgh-area resident.  “My husband and I live in a constant state of alert to asthma triggers and we do all we can to control and manage their condition, but we can only do so much. Our legislators should do their jobs and uphold the clean air protections we need to keep children healthy.”

Following the press conference, advocates participated in canvassing and a public education and outreach activity as part of the Lung Association’s Red Carriage initiative to raise awareness about the devastating impact of air pollution on the health of children. Students, residents and healthcare workers were able to sign a postcard to Pennsylvania’s U.S. senators asking them to oppose attempts to weaken clean air protections and have their photo taken with the red carriage in support of healthy air.

Recent polling commissioned by the American Lung Association found that voters in Pennsylvania strongly support clean air protections and believe that both clean air and a strong economy can be achieved.  In fact, 69 percent of voters support this dual notion of clean air and economic strength, and 59 percent of Pennsylvania voters also believe that stronger clean air standards will create jobs. Pennsylvania voters also support new protections to limit health-damaging carbon pollution from power plants (69 percent support) and updated emission standards for industrial boilers (68 percent support).

“From a public health perspective, few conditions impact so much of the population as the cleanliness of the air we breathe,” remarked Dr. Burke. “Over 40 years, the Clean Air Act has contributed greatly to the improvement of our air, yet too many Americans still live in areas where their air quality is poor. Our legislators should uphold clean air protections for their constituents and ensure those who are least able to cope with dirty air do not suffer most.”

The Red Carriage campaign centers on a red baby carriage that emanates the sounds of a child suffering respiratory distress. Startling television ads that ran during the campaign’s launch last fall saw the red carriage parked in front of iconic D.C. landmarks including the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol, drawing attention to the urgent need to protect the Clean Air Act: “Washington can’t ignore the facts. More air pollution means more childhood asthma attacks.” The ad is currently airing on television in the Pittsburgh media market, and a billboard featuring the red carriage is located at I-376 at Forward Avenue (west facing the entrance of the Squirrel Hill tunnel). The billboard copy urges the public to “Tell Washington: Don’t weaken clean air protections.”

For more information, or to speak with Lung Association organizers in Pennsylvania, please contact

Meredith Montalto: 610-322-1703
Deborah Brown: 610-563-6992