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Environment & Energy

Region's Air Quality is the Focus of Ambitious New Undertaking

More than 40 organizations and a growing number of individuals are taking on the challenge of improving Pittsburgh's air quality as part of the so-called Breathe Project. That's a multi-million dollar effort that includes scientific research, public awareness campaigns and calls to action.

"If you look at who's in this group, it's not a group that usually runs and walks together, and the great thing is that air quality is an important enough issue that people who come from very different points of view about different issues have said 'around this one we can gather,'" said Robert Vagt, president of the Heinz Endowments.

That group includes U.S. Steel, PNC, The Pittsburgh Foundation and Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP). That group applauded the Breathe Project effort, and stated that citizens and environmental groups alone can't fix the problem.

"It's refreshing to see that industry and local leadership are acknowledging that our region has a significant air pollution problem," said Rachel Filippini, GASP executive director.

Officials acknowledge that the region's air quality has vastly improved over the last few decades, but recognize there is still a long way to go. A recent study published by the Heinz Endowments found that the area's air pollution is among the most severe in the nation, putting residents at higher risk for a range of health problems including asthma and heart issues.

The Endowments has committed $700 million for various Breathe Project undertakings, and Vagt said that's just the beginning. The projects include large-scale tree planting and a feasibility study on converting the city's bus fleet from diesel fuel to natural gas. The Endowments will pay for half of that study and EQT will fund the other half.

The project includes a website, where residents can pledge to take actions like weatherizing their homes or idling their vehicles less.