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Breathe Project Honors Clean Air Champions

The Breathe Project, a program of the Heinz Endowments, honored three local champions of clean air and sustainability on Tuesday during a ceremony at the Hill House Association.

The inaugural recipients of the Breathe Awards include Brian Brown, a volunteer with the Breathe Project and a member of the Hill District Consensus Group; Global Links, a nonprofit medical relief organization; and PITT OHIO, a trucking company.

Brian Brown, 23, volunteers to help the Breathe Project in their youth outreach effort. He said kids need to be introduced to environmental issues at a young age.

“For me personally, as a young person, you have to be exposed," Brown said. "Basically, I think that’s when education should come in. That’s the prime time to integrate social justice, environmental issues.”

Kathleen Hower is the CEO and co-founder of Global Links, which repurposes old medical supplies from tri-state area hospitals for health-related uses throughout the country and the world.

She said that environmental and health issues are intrinsically linked.

“We believe that health is a human right," Hower said. "You can’t have good health if you don’t have clean air and clean water. So it was a natural fit for us to be involved and to do everything we can do to make our organization as sustainable as possible, and to cut down on any pollution or carbon fuels that we’re using to improve the air quality here in Pittsburgh.”

PITT OHIO is the one for-profit company that was honored at today’s ceremony, and Chief Marketing Officer Geoff Muessig said that sustainable practices simply make good business sense, especially in the trucking industry.

“We recognize that carbon output and your carbon footprint is really a cost, is a sign of waste," he said. "And any time you can take cost out of your system, you’re reducing your transportation costs, and at that point you can pass some of that savings onto your customers.”

Pittsburgh regularly ranks as having some of the dirtiest air in the nation, as ranked by the American Lung Association. This pollution comes primarily from coal-powered electrical generation and motor vehicles, according to a 2012 report by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Franco Harris, a Breathe Project Leadership Group member, said the area’s poor air quality is counter to the way Pittsburghers view their city.

“Right now we are one of the worst cities in the country with our air quality, and we as Pittsburghers, we don’t like that," he said. "We don’t like being in the bottom of anything.”

The Heinz Endowments launched the Breathe Project in 2011 as a way to build a clean air coalition between public health professionals, elected officials, environmental advocates, non-profit organizations and private corporations.

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